Monday, October 13, 2014

And his friends, family, neighbors, and strangers as well...

This is the story of Chris, age 53, Washington Nationals fan.

Chris is a townie. I'm not sure I had ever befriended a native Washingtonian before I met him. I had called Washington, DC a transient town, where people whose home states had nothing to offer them came to live, work, and increase the cost of living, but Chris grew up in Rockville, Maryland and I was suddenly thrown into a world where everyone was from this area. (We can get into semantics about who is allowed to be called a Washingtonian, arguing over whether or not the suburbs and exurbs count, but Chris has lived or worked in DC for most of his adult life, so the term suits.)

This Italian-Irish family with ten children were a family of sports and music. Baseball was important; they were Senators fans, with Chris coming into this world in the first year of the expansion version, the one that saw none of the stars who would win more often than not in the vast expanse of Minnesota and the Ice Palace. No, this was the new version, another awful rendition of a baseball team for the annuls of Washington's less than stellar baseball history. Frank Howard was perhaps the lone saving grace of the short-lived Washington redux, that massive man who hit the massive home runs and had a massive effect on a loud-mouthed kid from Rockville. That kid saw his first Major League home run fly off the bat of that man who hit moonshots to the upper echelons of the Washington stratosphere, his spaceman feats still marked by faded white paint within the confines of the aged Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium.

Ten year old Chris lost his baseball team, too, but none came to replace it.

But this was a family of baseball fans, and there was another team slightly further away, a team that had just defeated the infant Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series, and their allegiance migrated to the Baltimore Orioles, themselves having broken the hearts of kids in the swampy-aired town of Saint Louis, Missouri by moving away. This was the team of Brooks and Jim and Boog and later Cal and Eddie and Robbie for a spell. That was their baseball team then. That was Washington's team. There were some pennants and World Series and division wins over the years. Hall of Famers passed through. A streak made history. An Orioles team store was located on Farragut Square downtown DC. This was Birdland, too.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, native Washingtonian and Baltimore Orioles fan.

Chris has this joke he made up long before the Nationals came into existence. "Don't blame Angelos - he's doing asbestos he can." Angelos has always been a Grade A Jerk. He ran that storied franchise into the ground to garner sympathy for losing part of his market, and Orioles fans never deserved it. As a fan of a Reds team whose past ownership also ran a franchise into the ground, I know exactly how it felt to be an O's fans in those years of losing. We were losing, too. At the same time. Frankly, it sucked. Peter Angelos is something O's fans have to endure - something baseball fans have to endure, and they are not to blame.

Chris and his family became Nationals fans upon the team's immigration to America, as many Senators-turned-Orioles fans did. That ten year old boy was in his forties then; he had endured. He had survived the turmoil and the heartbreak of losing his favorite team to the adult realities of greed and indifference. He had been an Orioles fan and he had loved that team as his own. There were many like him. Had the Orioles not been so awful for the previous half decade plus, perhaps it would have been more difficult for some people who'd been watching the O's for decades to switch allegiance to the Nats. But the baseball fans in Washington, DC had something new to spice up that losing, something that should have been there all along, a baseball team in the capital of the nation, and they were playing in the Senators' old stomping grounds where so many childhood memories had been made and so many kids had learned the joys of a game called baseball. Three words couldn't have had more meaning: Baseball is back.

I had arrived to Washington by that time, frequenting those grounds, perhaps at the same time as some of those Italian-Irish folks from Rockville long before they had entered my life and I had entered theirs. Boy, were those days fun. It was baseball, that's all it was. No look-at-me-fly-by-night members of the Washington ego class, no Johnny-come-lately bandwagoners, just people who loved the game. That the team played well for much of the first season was a bonus, and you know Angelos was cursing every time he heard about another Nationals win. The baseball blogosphere was fun, too, back before social media rendered the world incapable of reading more than 140 characters at a time. Blogs like Oleanders and Morning Glories, Distinguished Senators, and Capitol Punishment were part of my daily reads. Granted, there wasn't much to cheer about, but it was baseball, and that's all that mattered.

The winning in recent years by both of the BWI teams has made for an interesting baseball atmosphere. As a baseball fan, I couldn't dream of a better postseason environment than having not one, but TWO area teams in the playoffs, despite the uninspiring season had by my beloved Reds. I revel in the fact that I get two baseball games on television every night, that local bars will put both of them on, that there are fans of both riding on the same trains and walking the same streets. It's a baseball fan's paradise. And it's unique. It's not like Chicago, where both teams have basically been around since the baseball hour glass began. It's not like New York, which saw two of its storied franchises divorce the East Coast and move in with California. It's not like LA, whose teams have so much concrete between them that they might as well be in different time zones. The Baltimore-Washington situation most closely resembles the Bay Area, especially in its white collar-blue collar divide. But it's not really that close, as both Bay Area franchises have been around for an eternity, and even in their current incarnations, they both have a lot of winning in their histories. Baltimore baseball is simply part of Washington baseball, whether new fans like it or not.

This is the story of Chris, age 10, Washington Senators fan.

When Major League Baseball wanted to relocate Les Expos to the capital of the nation that invented - or at least perfected - baseball, the MLB powers that be let Angelos bully them into a sweet deal for himself. Allen Drank-too-much-Bud Selig, owner's best friend, handed Angelos control over Nats television rights. The issue is a mess right now, as most baseball fans know, and the Orioles owe the Nationals $300 million. But this has not impoverished the Nationals, as some fans would lead you to believe. It's as if these Nats fans think that Peter Angelos is the reason the Nats didn't advance to the NLCS. If the Nats were short anything this season, it's because the Lerners are cheap bastards who would rather let a local university pay to keep Metro open late during the playoffs than fork over the money themselves, not because they couldn't afford to pay for impact players. Did Angelos try to block the move to Washington? Of course. Any businessman would take measures to protect himself from competition. That's capitalism. It is the ugly side of baseball, the corporate side, and it breaks hearts sometimes more than the game itself. It broke ten-year-old Chris's heart when his team left - it broke the hearts of so many in the Washington area. I'm sure my great great great grandfather was heartbroken when George and Harry Wright moved the first professional baseball team from Cincinnati to Boston in 1870. Professional baseball has always been a business first.

But baseball did come back to Washington, and Chris, the Senators fan, became a Nationals fan. You know what? He still has an Orioles shirt. You know what else? He's rooting hard for the Baltimore Orioles, because he was once an O's fan, because he is still an O's fan, because he is a baseball fan.

The twenty-somethings new to baseball and a few disgruntled others would have you believe that all of Washington is rooting against the Orioles. It simply isn't true. Baseball has existed in its professional form since 1869, when that other set of Wright Brothers took the field in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baseball did not begin in 2005, not even in Washington, DC. In fact, there is a long tradition of baseball here, and that, for three decades, at least, includes the Baltimore Orioles.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, baseball fan.


Suziestamper said...

Sure am glad that Chris is a BASEBALL fan!

Suziestamper said...
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