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Nationals Rivals?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H03

Atlanta Braves

Why it could be heated: Because the Braves have won 13 straight division titles, and everyone in the division has to consider them a rival, don't they?

Why it'll never heat up: Washington and Atlanta have transient populations with fewer natives than most cities. The Braves can't even sell out playoff games anymore. Do Atlanta sports fans have a passion about anything, let alone nascent baseball teams?

Florida Marlins

Why it could be heated: In some ways, they're kindred spirits. The Marlins burst on the scene quickly, winning two World Series titles in their first 11 seasons. Think the Nationals would take that?

Why it'll never heat up: Miami might like the Marlins, but it loves the Dolphins. Washington might grow to like the Nationals, but it will always love the Redskins.

New York Mets

Why it could be heated: These teams are already joined at the hip. The Mets were the Expos' first opponent ever, in 1969. The Mets beat the Expos in the final game for Montreal last October. The Nationals' first exhibition game came against the Mets. Why wouldn't it continue?

Why it'll never heat up: Both teams, for now, have a bit of an inferiority complex in their own towns. The Mets run second to the Yankees. The Nationals run second to the Redskins. One or the other have been last in the division each of the last four years.

Philadelphia Phillies

Why it could be heated: Geography. Philly is only 135 miles from Washington, and it's not a stretch for either of the two fan bases to fill the opposing ballpark on a given weekend.

Why it'll never heat up: Can Washington baseball fans muster the passion to match their counterparts? Will they be able to boo poor performances like Phillies fans boo decent ones? Nationals fans likely will take a few seasons to warm up to that jaded Philly edge.

-- Barry Svrluga

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