A Nats Fan’s Reconciliation With His O’s Fan Past (GUEST POST)

Here to riff on the topic I touched on is one of the best bloggers in D.C., J.P. of Japers’ Rink.

For the better part of this summer, it’s been eating at me.

And rather than fade away as it has in the past, it’s grown in intensity to a point at which it can no longer be neglected like the nine button on the microwave.

I need to reconcile my feelings about the Baltimore Orioles.

As a native Marylander whose awakening to the world of professional sports essentially coincided with the “local” baseball team instilling its second would-be legend in as many generations on the left side of the infield, the O’s were just about the most important non-familial thing in my life for years.

I have vivid memories of going to a playoff game in 1983, and the Rick Dempsey Sports Illustrated cover still hangs framed on the wall in my den. Of Mike Boddicker drinking glasses. Of the Cal Ripken growth chart on the back of my bedroom door. Of Ken Gerhart (the Ken Gerhart, you guys!) signing my glove at baseball camp. And so on.

The love would persist through streaks both epically good and bad, stadiums old and new, and an ace from Montoursville, PA unimaginably being allowed to leave town and don pinstripes. (And speaking of those Bronx Bombers, you haven’t rightly experienced hell until you’ve watched a kid in the rightfield stands turn a long fly out in a playoff game into a homerun … in New York … with your Yankee-fan fraternity brothers.)

The boyhood crush turned into full-blown love. My loyalty to the Birds never wavered.

Until it did.

There were a number of contributors to my waning baseball fanhood, but none more prominent than the way Peter Angelos was running the Orioles — alienating alumni (Brooks Robinson comes to mind), summarily dismissing great baseball men (like Pat Gillick, Jon Miller and Davey Johnson … whatever became of the latter, anyway?), letting Mike Mussina walk, and generally turning one of MLB’s loudest, proudest, most historic franchises into a laughing stock. (Skins fans say, “Hi.”)

When Cal Ripken was done, so was I.

And so, at the end of the 2001 season, I was no longer a baseball fan.

Over the next few years, talk of the failing Montreal Expos being moved to Washington intensified and ultimately became a reality (but not without sufficient appeasement provided to Mr. Angelos, of course, as he would now have a competing franchise in his backyard), and my dormant fanhood, still fueled by the coolest-burning of embers, was reignited, as much in defiance as pride. I went to games at RFK, bought a Brad Wilkerson jersey and suffered through bad teams and a crippling management scenario. But hey, it was our team.

Now here we are on September 6, 2012 with both the Orioles and the Nationals in playoff contention.

Mind-blowing as that is unto itself given where each team has been over the past decade, I suspect I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about the American League portion of the situation. I’m certainly not in a place where I can call myself an Orioles fan any more — that ship sailed (and sank) long ago. Yet I’m impressed with what they’re doing (even if there might be a “smoke and mirrors” aspect to it) and hope it continues … even if it would put money in Mr. Angelos’ pocket and, God forbid, a smile on his face.

Of course, it’s easier to wish your ex-girlfriend all the happiness in the world when you know you’re with the right girl now. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t feelings left to be reconciled.

29 thoughts on “A Nats Fan’s Reconciliation With His O’s Fan Past (GUEST POST)”

  1. I feel the exact same way. I’m a die hard Skins fan, and grew up idolizing Cal. I had moved to California by the time he retired, and I retired my baseball fandom with him.

    One of my best childhood memories is my first game at Memorial Stadium. I remember the sidewalks of the neighborhoods we passed walking in, buying peanuts on the streets, and chanting “Eddie, Eddie!” when Murray came to bat. Good times. :)

    Now, as the Orioles peek back into relevance, I find myself mildly interested. But to be honest with myself, they’re not my team anymore.

  2. I still don’t get it. I’ve grown up a DC-area sports fan since the late 80’s. I haven’t dropped my commitment to the Redskins, so why should I drop my love for the O’s? (Obvious parallel needs no further explanation).

    These are children’s games being played by grown men. This is sports. Not to be treated like ex-girlfriends or real human relationships.

    You grow up loving a team and you stick with it. you don’t ditch them because of a few poor personnel decisions and shoddy management. Or at least, that’s what true fans do.

    – Nova O’s fan

  3. I agree- nailed it. I grew up in Fairfax County. I remember listening to the 1983 series in the car in VA driving to a rodeo at Frying Pan park. I’ve baked in the upper deck of Memorial stadium. I loved the O’s until Angelos took away all that was good with the team (and the strike and the bastard kid in the rightfield stands took away the rest). I moved to St. Louis and learned to love baseball again with the best fans on earth. I forgot I loved the O’s. The Cards are my first team now, and the Nats my second. But I am also surprised to find that I still have something left for the O’s. I hope they make it.

  4. Nice piece, JP. I actually had to go through this twice. I was a Senators fan as a kid, and there was no team I hated more than the Orioles then. Slowly became an Os fan starting in probably ’77 (the DeCinces Interregnum) and have gradually become a Nats fan, driven as much toward the hometown team as away from the Angelos O’s.

    Adding to my baseball identity dysphoria? Live in Montreal in the 70s and was . . . an Expos fan.

  5. @ Nova O’s fan – That’s fair.

    For me, it wasn’t about leaving one team for another, it was about leaving the sport entirely and coming back tabula rasa. Maybe that’s the same thing. Maybe it’s worse.

    But things change, people change, priorities change. Like you said, “This is sports. Not to be treated like ex-girlfriends or real human relationships.” This isn’t “til death do us part,” so if something puts you off enough, why not leave it?

  6. commitment,
    many didnt stop being fans of the Orioles because of the nationals. they stopped because the Orioles became a bad team to be a fan of.

    I’ve been a skins fan my whole life but i would understand if another skins fan choose to cheer for another team (preferably in a different conference)

  7. @ NoVa O’s Fan – I understand what you’re saying to a certain extent. I’ll echo what others have said, though. This wasn’t about leaving the O’s to become a Nats fan. It was about leaving the O’s to become a non-Angelos fan. I “quit” on the Orioles in 2003. I was fortunate enough to have another franchise land in our backyard that matched the rest of the teams I loved (Redskins, Capitals, Bullets, Terps, etc).

    I think that it’s admirable to stick with a team through thick and thin. But to support an owner like Angelos is beyond “thin”. He’s insufferable.

  8. @J.P.

    Completely understand where you are coming from, as I too feel like I have dropped the sport. The O’s being terrible being the sole reason for that. I guess I just never lost that childhood loyalty even when the sport went away for me. Everyone’s different.

    I root for the Nats. They are a DC team and I’m a DC guy. But if somehow they are playing the O’s in November, I’ll be at every game decked out in orange and black. I just can’t see it any other way.

  9. Spot on as usual, J.P. I think the thing that hurts is that great baseball men built the Orioles I loved, and the Oriole Way. And then, after EBW died, the decay accelerated. (Make no mistake, while it would be easy to blame the whole mess that’s been the O’s on Peter Angelos, Roland Hemond pretty much threw gasoline on a campfire.)

    So what to do, indeed? The Oriole Way is being recreated in front of our eyes at Nationals Park.

  10. I didn’t realize Brady Anderson was working with the team. I watched for a second last night and saw him in the dugout.

  11. Great post. Grew up going to memorial stadium and obviously Camden but lost the O’s love after Ripken etc… I’ve fully converted to 100% Nats fan but just last week made my first return to Camden since DC got a team. Proudly wore my red curly W hat, even tried to get the Nats game on tv in their new CF bar. Times have changed, but glad to see both teams doing so well

  12. i just dont understand how you can be a caps, wizards and skins fan but NOT be a nats fan? allegiances just get way too confusing when you start having teams in different cities. and it absolutely disgusted me that peter angelos was the lone vote against the nats moving to dc. if you live in the dmv you need to throw your support behind the nationals, they are a great group of guys and they are going to be winning for years

  13. If you stop being a fan of the orioles and hop on someone else’s bandwagon I have 2 words: good riddance.

    Being a fan is suffering through the bad times and celebrating the good times. I’m also a Cal Ripken kid, I had the exact same growth chart on the back of my door and I would never considering throwing those 25 years away. I may occasionally pull for other teams, like the dodgers in past years but under no circumstance would I consider myself an LA fan. I can’t wait when the Capitals go through a few losing seasons, we’ll see the real fans. And that’s the epitome of dc sports fandom, it’s not a sport city and that’s reflected by the Nats’ “fans” doing the freaking wave.

  14. I grew up in York, PA in the 80’s (Orioles country) and then lived in DC in the 90’s (still Orioles country). I used to take the MARC train to Camden Yards 10-20 times a year and remember the Orioles story on Farragut Square. I moved to San Diego in 2001 and stuck with Redskins & Orioles, despite the pain they’ve caused me since. When the Nats came to DC, I was excited and wasn’t sure which team would be #1 and which would be #1A – after all, I’ve never lived in Baltimore. But when the season started, I found that rooting for the Orioles was the natural order. I know there are plenty of Orioles haters among Nats fans (yes, I’m looking you, Yurasko), but I think there are plenty of people that can root for both. Until the World Series, of course – then the Nationals are going down…

  15. Using the “Angelos is “insufferable” excuse to justify your disloyalty and hopping on a winning teams’ bandwagon is laughable. Have you met the guy? Do you hate him as a person? Sure, he’s the Dan Snyder of baseball and one of the worst owners in the history of professional sports, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t explain why anyone hates the Orioles. Admit it, the Orioles were losing and you gave up on them. New team or not, loyalty is loyalty.

    If the O’s had been winning the past 15 years, I guarantee there would be a lot fewer Nats fans out there today, which is sad.

  16. Disagreed Commitment,

    I was raised with the understanding that it was only OK to root for the O’s until DC had baseball back. With or without Angelos supposedly acting like Snyder (Danny didn’t start spending money and then stop BTW). No one from the Redskins protested Baltimore getting a football team back either.

    I don’t root against the O’s, but I certainly don’t need to feel guilty for being happy for them when hey lose either.

  17. It wasn’t just that he was insufferable, it’s that he was blocking the return of a DC francise for more than a decade and then only allowed it when he was allowed to suck on the Nats’ TV profits. He actively antogonized DC area fans by these actions, forcing them to continue to trek up 95 at rush hour for a post work dose of horsehide, in addition to his Snydersque antics. And I wouldn’t call the first seven seasons of nationals baseball really bandwagon worthy. If someone switched their allegiance at the 2012 All Star break, sure, they’re bandwagoneers, but if you were sitting in RFK circa 2005 waiting for concrete to fall on your head? Sorry we weren’t hopping on a bandwagon, and weren’t expecting in our wildest dreams for one to materialize only seven years later.

  18. Had baseball “back?” For the majority arguing these days, there never was baseball in DC. That was well before my time. It’s not like my favorite team left me and I had to settle for rooting the O’s. The Baltimore Orioles were the headline baseball story in The Washington Post spanning 4 decades. They were DC’s team.

    So for those senior citizens out there, I can understand that logic. But if you’re pushing 40 and you rejoiced when “your Senators” came back to you 7 years ago, just another excuse in my book.

  19. Commitment – You’re just wrong on this one. When the majority of us “left” the Orioles, DC not only didn’t have a team, they weren’t even thought to be getting a team. What’s more, I think it’s safe to say we suffered those first seven years, too. You don’t get two consecutive #1 picks by being mediocre. 205 losses over a two-year span filters out the casual fan. You’re underestimating the “commitment” of true Nats fans.

  20. I’m a DMV guy from a DC family. My grandfathers were Senators fans that grew up through the Walter Johnson years. They, along with my father, suffered through the team leaving the city twice to go to Minneapolis and Dallas. With no team in the city, the Orioles became the family team, just in time for the Oriole Way and Orioles Magic.

    I grew up during the Murray and Cal eras. The O’s was my team because it was my family’s team. I got to experience some good years. World Series in ’83. Ripken’s 1991 MVP season. The birth of Camden Yards. 50 home runs by Brady. Roberto Alomar spitting. Two heartbreaking ALCS series.

    When Cal retired and Angelos proved to be a meddling owner, I fell away from baseball for a number of years. (College at JMU and abundant steroid controversies helped too).

    Then the Nats came to town around the time when I started paying more attention to baseball. Lerner was a not spending money and Angelos was still getting in the way, so the local teams were not doing a good job at encouraging me to be an enthusiastic baseball fan. During this time, I suppose I could be categorized as “vulnerable” to switch to the Nats.

    Right now, I find myself liking the Nats, the baseball history they are resurrecting, their ballpark, and their silly Natitude. They’ve done a hell of a job setting themselves up for years of pennant chasing. I’ll happily cheer for the Nationals as they represent my city, as my family years ago supported the Senators.

    Nevertheless, the Orioles is the team of my youth and my first baseball love, hon.

  21. Let’s be clear here… there is no way to rationalize switching allegiances unless one franchise has caused grievous bodily harm to you or a member of your family. People can try to explain away how or why it is they “quit” on the O’s but just call it what it is – you became a Nats fan because you felt that they would be more successful than the O’s.

    I get that a new franchise is sexy and exciting… I really do. But I have been a Bullets, Skins, and O’s fan all my life and nothing will ever change that… losing or otherwise. The whole Angelos argument holds about as much water as you Nats fans do drinking your craft brews at happy hour in Arlington or DC.

    Listen, I’m happy for Nats fans and the success they’re having, but I don’t need to hear from former O’s fans come Nats fans about how they used to like the O’s. Deal with your guilt in private and don’t try to stick your foot back in the O’s door now that they’re on the edge of pulling something WAY more impressive this season than the Nats have. GO O’S!!!

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