There are literally hundreds of thousands of us with the same story: We have lived here for a long time -- in my case, 25 years -- and we have never seen a home baseball game. We have raised our children here, and they have never seen a home baseball game. So we are delighted that finally a baseball team is coming. And will play here. And will be ours.
But there are also literally hundreds of thousands of us who have gone up to 33 years without a home baseball team, and have survived, and even thrived. And though we have lived without a home baseball team, we haven't lived without baseball. When we wanted to see baseball over the past 33 years, tens of thousands of us, certainly, went to Baltimore to see it.
And to be fair, going to Baltimore was not like going to Nepal. The drive from Washington to Camden Yards takes less than an hour on weekends (about an hour less than the drive home from FedEx Field after a Redskins game). When you consider that around the country most people drive at least an hour, maybe two hours, to go to college and pro games, going to Camden Yards was a breeze. And when you got to Camden Yards, which is a strikingly beautiful ballyard, you were treated very nicely -- a lot more nicely than any of us were ever treated at, say, Capital Centre or USAir Arena, where the guards routinely sneered at you and herded you around like goats. So unlike a lot of my colleagues who've gotten religion recently, I'm not here to demonize the Orioles or Peter Angelos.
The Orioles provided us with some great moments over the past 25 years, most notably anything to do with Cal Ripken -- who I'm hoping will quickly become the general manager of the new Washington team. The night Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record was as warm and sweet and moving a night as anyone has ever seen in sports. It represented everything that was right with sports, and it didn't matter that Ripken didn't wear the word "Washington" across his chest. We loved him anyway. Ripken didn't wear the word "Baltimore" either. Angelos was smart enough to know that if he was going to appeal to Washingtonians to go to his games, he shouldn't alienate them by underlining that they were outsiders. And while I don't especially like Angelos, I don't fault him for trying hard to protect his investment. Of course, he doesn't want a team in Washington. He wants the market to himself. Wouldn't you? Angelos wasn't the villain in this piece. He was the easy target. Bowie Kuhn, Fay Vincent and Bud Selig, the powerful commissioners, were the villains. They ran baseball.
We loved Cal here. And over the years we've loved Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and a slew of other Orioles, too. We celebrated them like they were almost ours. Because they were almost ours. The truth is this newspaper encouraged us to love the Orioles by covering the O's home and away and in spring training, as if they were Our Birds. This sports section embraced the Orioles as the surrogate home team. (So it amuses me now to read my dear friend and longtime sports editor of this section, George Solomon, rail against the Orioles and Angelos in his columns. He was the guy who orchestrated covering the O's like they played in Bethesda.)
I'm thrilled that we finally have a team in Washington. But I don't see why we have to throw the Orioles away with the bathwater. Shouldn't we be celebrating our good fortune that now we have the chance to sample both American and National League games? Leagues that are really different, and try to stay really different, and don't circulate in every team every year -- unlike the NBA and NHL. Shouldn't we rejoice that most of us can now see all of baseball's great teams and players just by driving about an hour?
Bonds, Clemens, Guerrero, Pujols, Jeter, A-Rod, Pedro, Ichiro, they'll all be coming in. If you go to Nissan Pavillion and Merriweather Post, why wouldn't you still go to Camden Yards? I'm assuming the Washington team will be in the National League, like the Expos are. But it's possible they'll be in the American League because the Orioles may try to switch to the National League to tap into the lucrative possibility of a rivalry with the Phillies. Either way, we'll have both leagues on our doorstep. How great is that? (A lot better than Wizards vs. Hawks on a Wednesday night. Speaking of which, here's who took the biggest tumble with the announcement that baseball was back in Washington: the Wizards and Capitals. The Redskins eat up the first part of their season. Now baseball will eat the rest, from February and spring training on. Oh, I forgot, the Capitals won't have a season. Well, vaya con Dios.)
If I have one fear for Washington baseball, it would be that all these years without a home team has changed the sporting habits of an entire generation. People who are now 35, an age where they are raising families and buying homes, have spent their whole lives without a home baseball team. Will they embrace this one? By now their feet are probably cemented in the Redskins' sidewalk. Maybe they're soccer fans. Maybe baseball has no appeal to them. Maybe for its first few years Washington baseball will be all about geezers. Maybe it will smell musty to that generation it missed completely.
But I am thrilled to have baseball here, where I can touch it without having to cross a border. For all the years I have lived here I have never understood how the capital of the United States of America could not have a baseball team. (And to add insult to injury, Tampa could.) My hopes are modest. I hope the new baseball team is competitive. I hope it doesn't bankrupt us. I hope it doesn't leave. And I hope someday it beats those Damn Yankees. After 33 years, how much more can you hope for?