Monday, June 11, 2007


If the Chesapeake Basin is a giant chessboard over which Camden Yards and RFK Stadium are locked in a life-or-death struggle, then St. Mary's County Maryland might be considered the Center of the Board-- the mythical place where pawns and knights plant their standards, dig in, and hope that their flanks can hold.

It is on this graceful peninsula, where the Chesapeake meets the Potomac, that the first Marylanders settled, and pronounced, among other things, that man should be free to practice whichever religion he wanted without fear of persecution. I wondered if it held true for baseball teams.

I was in St. Mary's for a wedding this weekend, and, with the upcoming Orioles-Nationals interleague series, was curious about how well the Washington team was faring in this once solidly black-and-orange county.

At the site of the rehearsal dinner, I noticed a teenager with a Nationals hat (blue, not red, surprisingly). He wore it low and flat, like Chad Cordero, and seemed surprised when I approached him.

"Are you local?"
"Born and raised."
"Are there more Nats fans than O's fans here?"
"Shit. Nationals, dog."

He finished his cigarette and went inside. I wandered through the parking lot and had a look at the licence-plate frames- often a wealth of demographic information. I saw one black-and-orange plate, no Nationals paraphernalia, and about a dozen lacrosse stickers of various types.

Later, I spoke with the bartender at the wedding, a man who I guessed to be in his mid-40's-- old enough to remember the 1970 Orioles team that beat Cincy, and probably in college for the '83 team.
"This Orioles or Nationals country?"
"O's. Well it used to be. I think it still is. I grew up thinking Jim Palmer was god."
"Well he kind of was."
"Haven't seen them much since they moved to the new place. My dad was a huge Senators fan, though."

Later, at a bar after the wedding, I approached a group of guys in their mid 20's, huddled over the bar and squinting at the TV, which had Baseball Tonight with closed captions.

Their responses were mixed:

"Ryan Zimmerman." said one.
"Fuck you, you used to wear Cal Ripken jerseys in high school!"
"Yeah man, I don't know... Angelos..." his voice trailed off.
"Camden yards is awesome! This is still O's country. All the way."

On Sunday, as I drove back to town, I flipped on the radio and listened to Fred Manfra and Joe Angel call the Colorado Game. It was pleasant, like hearing old friends' voices on the phone.

The response in St. Mary's had been mixed. Ultimately, though, it appears that the Orioles were retreating from this area, ceding ground to the upstarts on the Anacostia. For now.

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