Battle Of The Beltway: Orioles vs. Nationals

By Carla Peay
Updated: May 22, 2006

Nationals Manager Frank Robinson chats with Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo before Saturday's game between their two teams.

Nationals Manager Frank Robinson chats with Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo before Saturday's game between their two teams.

WASHINGTON — The season’s first round of inter-league games started last weekend, kicking off with baseball’s natural rivalries, such as the Yankees vs. the Mets, the Cubs vs. the White Sox, and the Giants vs. the A’s. The newest entry in the cross-town geographic diamond wars is the Washington Nationals vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

Last year’s inter-league schedule had the newly christened Nationals playing teams that were close to the Nationals in their former incarnation as the Montreal Expos, but this year, the schedule makers had time to make sure that the fans in this region got what they wanted – a rivalry.

Or is it?

“There’s no rivalry right now that means anything. There are some bragging rights right from the beginning, naturally. Which ever team can beat up on the other can have some bragging rights on the beltway”, said Nationals manager Frank Robinson.

“But it’s going to take a lot of other things to really get into a rivalry. Longevity over the years of playing each other, both teams being competitive over a lot of years, the fan interest being built up for those games, and the players and the press and the fans have to get involved in it. It would really be a rivalry if we were in the same division”.

“And both teams have to get a little nasty with each other, have a little hatred towards each other. If incidents happen on the field and players want to beat your brains out because they want to get back at you. That may build up in time, but it’s not there right now”, he added.

Robinson played for the Orioles from 1966 to 1971. The Orioles won the World Series twice during Robinson’s playing tenure, in 1966 and 1970. In 1966, Robinson was voted the World Series Most Valuable Player.

In 1988, Robinson returned to the Orioles as the team’s manager, and remained with the club until 1991. In 1989, Robinson was voted Manager of the Year after leading the O’s to a record of 87-75.

“I think it’s more just the National League vs. the American League right now”, said former Oriole’s pitcher Jim Palmer, who spent his entire career with Baltimore. Palmer, whose stellar playing career includes six all star selections, three Cy Young awards, and eight seasons winning 20 or more games, is now working as the color analyst for the Orioles television broadcasts.

“Both teams need wins. I think it’s more the proximity, the fact that when I played going way back, obviously Baltimore was across the tracks supposedly and Washington was the national capital. We (the Orioles) had better teams, yet nobody really came to see the Senators or the Orioles back then”, he added.

Further diluting this media-driven rivalry is that Washington D.C. is littered with fans that grew up without a team, many of whom formed a natural rooting affection for their neighbors to the north. Baltimore’s Camden Yards, home of the Orioles, is a 45 minute trip north on the Beltway from Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium, which is home to the Nationals.

Many local fans continue to root for both teams. This was clearly evidenced by Friday night’s “fan of the game” segment. The man chosen was sporting an Oriole’s cap, and a National’s jersey.

Rivalry or not, the Nationals recorded a much needed series win. After losing game one on Friday night by a score of 5-1 on a complete game 5-hit gem by Orioles starter Kris Benson, the Nationals went on to take game two on Saturday by a score of 8-3, and Sunday’s game three by a score of 3-1.

Both Saturday and Sunday’s contests featured the Nationals posting double digit hit totals, with 10 hits on Saturday and 11 hits on Sunday, which is hopefully a sign that positive things are just around the corner for this franchise.

The sale of the Nationals to real estate magnate Theodore (Ted) Lerner and the Lerner Group was unanimously approved at last week’s Major League Baseball owner’s meeting, to the surprise of no one, and the ownership change is scheduled to take place next month.

Stan Kasten, formerly the president of the Atlanta Braves during which time the team won 14 straight division titles, will serve as team president.

“I think it’s good for the organization and it will be good for this team. I think they are a great group of individuals and they have a good baseball man to head the group, Stan Kasten”, Robinson added.

“What they’re talking abut doing is building up the minor league system, including scouting. If we have to trade established stars, we want to get young talent in return. If you’re going to build a home, you have to lay a good foundation first, before you start framing the house. The minor league system is the foundation of an organization”.

“Before this, we just didn’t feel like we were on par with the other teams. It felt like it was unfair to this organization. It’s not something you can do overnight, or rush into (picking an owner) but when you’re on this end, everyday seems like a year. But it’s over now and I think he (Commissioner Selig) selected the right group and I’m looking forward to their involvement in this team”, he added.

As is Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, who has known Kasten for more than a decade. “Now that there’s ownership, the organization can go in the right direction with one vision”, said Bowden.

The Lerner group is making plans for a grand Re-Opening night at RFK Stadium scheduled for July 21st, the Nationals first home game following the All-Star break.