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Nationals Make Inroads on Orioles' Turf

Orioles fans Ian Hester and Jackie Fritsch, both 21, of Crofton, cheer at a recent Nationals game at RFK.
Orioles fans Ian Hester and Jackie Fritsch, both 21, of Crofton, cheer at a recent Nationals game at RFK. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

But then came the usual counterargument: What about loyalty to the Orioles?

"If a football team moved to Loudoun County" near his home in Vienna, Berry told his friend, "I would still be a Redskins fan."

"Different," McElwaine replied. "Different."

For Howard and Anne Arundel fans who do choose the Nats, snippy O's fans are the least of their troubles. More important is the problem with viewing games on TV: A dispute between Angelos and Comcast Corp. means that Nats games usually are not available on cable in those counties.

As a result, fans have found themselves straining to watch tiny televisions and playing with rabbit-ear antennas to bring in the broadcast signal from the District.

In other words, welcome to baseball in the 1950s. And those are the lucky ones. Steve Lalekos , 58, of Arnold can get most Nats games only on the radio.

The radio in his car.

"I can't sit in the car all day," Lalekos said. "I kind of just keep running out and listening to an inning or two."

It has not deterred him. "I'm determined to follow this team, and they're not going to stop me," he said.

For now, the dividing line isn't always clear. Some fans, for instance, are holding on to the belief they can root for both teams.

Such a fence-sitter was Kevin Gibbs, 34, of Rockville, who came to Wednesday's Nationals game wearing a Nats hat and a Brian Roberts Orioles jersey. He said that when the Nationals and Orioles play someday, he will have to root for the O's.

"But I wouldn't be mad" if the Nationals won, he added.

Sports history, however, tends to mock such attempts at neutrality. Try to find a Chicago native who hasn't been forced to choose between the White Sox or the Cubs, or a New Yorker who's neutral between the Yankees and Mets.

Closer to home, consider the fissure between Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens fans. In the nine years since the Ravens arrived, their rivalry in the border areas has hardened into a you're-with-me-or-against-me feud.

Barstool prognosticators at the Greene Turtle said the same thing will happen to fans when the O's and Nats start playing each other next season.

"Give it a couple of years," said Jeremy Holbrook, 26, of Crofton. "They'll be bumping heads."

A small experiment in the attraction of Nationals baseball could be made Wednesday night, when Oriole fans Ian Hester and Jackie Fritsch, both 21, came from Crofton to see the Nats play the Oakland Athletics at RFK Stadium.

In the fourth inning, when Nationals catcher Brian Schneider hit a home run, Hester and Fritsch stood and cheered with the crowd.

"It was a nice play, but it doesn't mean anything," Fritsch said. "If you look at the statistics, the Orioles are better."

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