Think of Baltimore, whose Orioles are the incumbent baseball team in our region, as a red state, and Washington, the challenger from the south, as a blue state. In between and all around are vast expanses of suburbia and rural lands, whose residents now have a choice in their baseball entertainment: Orioles or Expos/Senators/Nationals/Grays/Whatevers, American League or National, sitting in traffic for hours heading north or heading south.
You, the fans, are the swing states.
Soon, no doubt, you will be bombarded with campaign propaganda, as both parties -- er, teams -- attempt to woo you to their side. Warning: The campaign could be vicious. (Rumor is, D.C. baseball operatives, as we speak, are quietly investigating whether Peter Angelos ducked service in the Vietnam War.)
In other two-team regions, the competing franchises have taken on their own distinct personalities. In Southern California, for instance, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the darlings of the Hollywood set, while the Anaheim Angels play up their suburban, Disney-fied fun factor.
In Chicago, the Cubs have their cult-like following of long-suffering die-hards, while the White Sox attract a grittier type of fan, known sometimes to go on the field and attack first base coaches and umpires.
What type of baseball fan you are might decide which team you support.
The Orioles in 2005 believe they will be finished with a seven-year rebuilding plan and will be ready, with the addition of a couple more critical pieces, to compete in the high-rent district of the AL East. Mismanagement has cost them more fans in the last few years than will be stolen away next season by a team in Washington.
The Expos/Senators/Nationals/Grays/Whatevers -- ESNGWs for short -- appear much further from contention; a proper goal for the franchise might be to shoot for contending when its new stadium is ready to open in Southeast Washington in 2008. This winter, when it will still be under MLB control, could be huge. Not only must the team hire a general manager to replace the departed Omar Minaya, but it must decide whether to spend freely on free agents -- in anticipation of a ten-fold increase in revenues over its Montreal days -- or wait until new ownership is in place.
The choice is yours, swing-state fans. First, here is a rundown of the issues as you ponder the two candidates:
Had Major League Baseball not run the team into the ground, the ESNGWs could have Vladimir Guerrero in right field, Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, Michael Barrett at catcher and Bartolo Colon, Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez in the rotation. Instead, they have a solid young core built around second baseman Jose Vidro and outfielder Brad Wilkerson.
Had the Orioles not run themselves into the ground, they could have Steve Finley in center field, Armando Benitez closing, and Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina in the rotation. What the Orioles do have, however, is the best player in the AL this season, shortstop Miguel Tejada. (He'll be denied the most valuable player award by voters who deem it necessary that an MVP play for a winner.) They also have an all-star catcher in Javy Lopez, a potential future batting champion in Melvin Mora and may try to lure back future Hall-of-Fame first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
And if things get really dicey, they could try to talk Cal Ripken out of retirement.
Twelve years after it opened, Oriole Park at Camden Yards remains one of the crown jewels of baseball, as well as the model for all the other retro-chic stadiums that followed. The Warehouse beyond right field makes for a majestic backdrop, especially when grease fires from Boog's barbecue stand cloak it in wafts of thick, black smoke.
RFK Stadium? Well, it's really old. And in one exciting promotional giveaway currently under consideration, anyone who gets hit by a chunk of falling concrete would get a free Dexter Manley bobblehead doll.
Despite Manager Lee Mazzilli's wishful speculation about switching leagues, the Orioles are remaining in the AL, where the pitchers don't bat and games tend to drag on forever. Intradivision rivals Boston and New York visit for 9 or 10 games every season, which is great for the Orioles' finances and tough for their win-loss record.
In the NL East, the ESNGWs will still be competing with big spenders. However, the difference is, these big spenders -- the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies -- don't win. The Atlanta Braves have won the East for a ridiculous 13 straight seasons. Oh, and Barry Bonds's San Francisco Giants will be making at least one visit per season.
The Orioles boast Tim Russert and George Will among their season ticket holders. But does anyone think they won't jump ship now that there is baseball in the District? If the Orioles were smart, they would constantly ridicule such a blatant flip-flop.
At RFK, it is expected that President Nader will continue the tradition of presidential ceremonial first pitches next Opening Day.
Pregame, Postgame Hangouts
The Orioles have the Inner Harbor, a tourist-friendly shopping-and-entertainment mecca that beckons beyond just down Pratt Street from Camden Yards. With numerous hotels nearby, the area draws baseball fans who stay for the weekend. Of course, this also leads to wild packs of Yankees and Red Sox fans taking over the stadium and turning it into a southern version of Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
As for the RFK's surroundings, really, is there anything that beats a day of fun at the D.C. Armory?
MLB sources in Montreal this week confirmed that Youppi -- the inscrutable, fuzzy, orange creature who graced Expos games in Montreal for all these years -- will be accompanying the franchise to Washington in some form next season.
Meantime, the Oriole Bird is a giant, black-and-orange avian monster that is so popular with Orioles fans, they sometimes try to pick him up and drop him over the railing onto the section of stands below.