As I sit high atop the field at Nationals Park this evening waiting for Stephen Strasburg to pitch to Nick Markakis, I can’t help but wonder where this “rivalry” on the field ranks in MLB. The Baltimore Orioles used to play Washington six games a year (a weekend series in each park), but now that’s been reduced to four games (two in each park, during the week).
So where does this “rivalry” rank in regards to MLB, or perhaps even in sports overall? Let’s not even kid ourselves in saying Yankees/Red Sox or Phillies/Mets; these are two teams in different leagues, so it’s going to be tough to argue that. One could compare it to some of the other “neighborhood games” out there in MLB (such as Yankees/Mets, Cubs/ChiSox, etc), but I’m not sure even that’s comparable. Regardless of how close they might be, The Orioles and Nationals still come from two very distinct cities with very different cultures.
Thus I suppose one might compare it with Texas and Houston or Miami and Tampa, but I would submit that the “rivalry” is a bit more “fierce” than those. I maintain that this isn’t a real rivalry in a sense; does it mean something for geographic bragging rights? To a degree. However Orioles fans shouldn’t forget that the series coming up this weekend against New York is much more important than these two series’ with Washington.
But if we’re still in the mood to compare, I would consider looking to other sports as opposed to MLB. Certainly one could point to the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins, which is the NFL’s version of what we’re about to see this week. However those teams play once every five or six years (not counting preseason when they usually face each other every season).
Instead, I would look at college sports. In 2010 the Maryland Terrapins faced the Navy
Midshipmen in week one of the college football season at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The Terps won 17-14, in what to this day is the best football game I’ve ever attended in person. And if you look at college basketball, you see the Philadelphia schools meeting early in the season each year, and the same can sometimes be true of other cities’ teams. Louisville and Kentucky meet each year as well – and that might be one of the better and more specific comparisons if not for the fact that there’s much more history than there is in the Battle of the Beltways.
I think that if we want to find the best comparison out there, we should look no further than our own backyard. The Maryland Terrapins played the George Mason Patriots at Cole Field House in 1999, narrowly beating them. They also played in the 2002 NCAA Tournament in Boise, ID, with Maryland once again winning by a small margin (and going on to win the national title). Since then the two sides have met on occasion, either at Comcast Center or at the Verizon Center in DC.
Maryland has never lost to GMU, however when the two sides meet on occasion there’s little love lost on Mason’s side. That group of fans wants to beat Maryland more so than any other team outside of their conference. Whereas the stereotype is that Marylanders (and Baltimoreans at that) have a bit of an inferiority complex, in reality it’s the other way around when those two teams meet.
I suppose that it’s still not an apples-to-apples comparison because the O’s and Nats do still play each other four times a year as opposed to UMD and GMU only on occasion. That, plus the fact that both of those schools are considered “DC area” schools while the Orioles and Nationals come from two different cities. But I would submit that UMD/GMU and Louisville/Kentucky in college basketball are the best comparisons out there to the Battle of the Beltways.
The other alternative is that there quite frankly is not comparison. And that in and of itself might be the best way of putting it. It’s not as intense as Yankees/Mets or Cubs/ChiSox, but it’s nowhere near as “relaxed” as Marlins/Rays or A’s/Giants. The atmosphere at Battle of the Beltway games is unlike anything that most fans of both teams see night in and night out. There’s little doubt that the Orioles “travel better” to Washington than the Nationals do to Baltimore (in terms of the number of out-of-town fans). And that will make for an interesting dynamic in the stands tonight and tomorrow.
Realistically it wouldn’t surprise me if this series ends up split, as does the Baltimore series. But time will tell. Needless to say, the mid-Atlantic region is the place to be in MLB for the next few days with the Battle of the Beltways on!