In the long, glorious, storied, mythical history of Major League Baseball, many rivalries have managed to stand the test of time. Yankees-Red Sox, as much as most of us are sick to death of the "end of the world" nature of their current feud, is a great sports rivalry. Cubs-White Sox was a better rivalry before they played every year, but if you go to Chicago, you will quickly note the differences between the fanbases, and how legitimate it all is. Dodgers-Giants started in New York and moved to California without losing a step.
While Earl Weaver will tell you that there should be bad blood between all clubs, it would be a great lie to say we care as much about a game against the Indians as we do a game against the Red Sox, barring some circumstances that make the Indians game very important. If you hate a team, you don't have to be personal about the fanbases, but it's healthy to argue with them. Yankees and Red Sox fans, in large part, don't really get with these rules.
The Red Sox and Yankees are our rivals, but that's more about us trying to fight the power atop the AL East division. We used to be right in the thick of things, but as much as one should love and respect the history of one's team, the days of Brooks, Frank, Cakes, Boog, and even Cal and Eddie are long, long gone. These are the days of Guthrie and Millar, a loose, enjoyable team that plays the best it can with not much in the way of recognizable talent, at least to an outsider.
When interleague play started, our interleague rival was mandated to be the Philadelphia Phillies, who fell harshly in the 1983 World Series to the Birds. This made perfect sense. The teams were close geographically, had some history, and were long-standing, well-known franchises.
But then came the Washington Nationals.
When the Expos moved to D.C. from Montreal, we knew it would mean a forced "cross-town" rivalry that couldn't ever really hold a candle to Cubs-White Sox, Mets-Yankees, Giants-A's or even Dodgers-Angels. Who were the Nationals, and why should we care?
They played in a dump. The team itself was a dump and a joke, an MLB-controlled quasi-team that no doubt played hard, but barely even existed in their last few years in Montreal. In their first few in Washington, little has really changed.
The Nats are not a team I can hate, because I don't care about them. I don't care about this rivalry. And I know I'm not in market, but those in market I've talked with have pretty similar feelings, for the most part.
It's neat that the Nationals exist in D.C. and we have a yearly two-series interleague rivalry (if anything about interleague play can still be considered neat, that is), but past that, what's the difference between us playing these guys or playing the Phillies, or the Reds, or the Braves? Not much.
The first-ever regular season O's-Nats contest came on May 19, 2006, at RFK Stadium, the newcomers getting home field the first time out. Ed Rogers was the O's leadoff man that day, and the O's managed to grind out a chipping away 5-1 victory. Kris Benson pitched a complete game for the win. Corey Patterson had three hits.
The Nats won the next two games in the series, games which saw Brandon Fahey lead off for the Birds. Later in the season, the O's took two of three from Washington, evening the all-time series at 3-3.
Last year, the Birds won the first two at RFK, and dropped the third, then were swept out at Camden Yards in the middle of a nine-game losing streak in June. All-time record coming into this year's battle: Washington 7, Baltimore 5.
We get another six chances. Best case scenario is we leave 2008 ahead 11-7 against the former Expos, but worst case is we fall behind 13-5. I doubt either will happen. The O's are busting their humps to remain competitive against all odds, while the Nationals are pretty much exactly what everyone thought they'd be in their first season at glorious Whatever It'll Be Called By 2010 Park.
Gear up! Fight for pride! Whatever, guys. Play ball.
The one neat thing is going to be the commentary. MASN is going to brave the waters for the potential cluster-you-know-what with four-man broadcast booths. This weekend, Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer will be joined by Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton, which will hopefully result in a fistfight. When the O's go over to D.C., it'll be Carpenter, Sutton, Jim Hunter and Buck Martinez. Nats fans, we apologize in advance for Hunter and Buck.