The Baltimore Orioles will open the Battle of the Beltways at Camden Yards tonight with Chris Tillman on the mound. For the first time in two seasons, the O’s will once again play six games against Washington, with the Birds heading to DC in late September. MLB has truncated the “natural rivalry” series’ a bit, in general with each team playing host to the other for two games. However this year with the AL East and NL East playing each other anyways, they’ve re-instated the two series’ of three games each.
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These games are always fun between the two sides, mainly because of the proximity. If the attendance figures and atmospheres in both parks vouch for anything over the course of time, the fans really seem to like these games. And I would submit that these types of series’ specifically (Battle of the Beltways, Subway Series, Chicago Series, etc.) are special because the two sides are so similar. But also because they’re so different.
Baltimore is an old blue collar town that many say often has a chip on it’s shoulder. And perhaps with good reason, as it was often an afterthought in many cases – seen as a traffic jam between Washington and New York. Washington on the other hand has a lot going for it, and again with good reason – it’s the nation’s capital, after all. Yet here we are, two cities separated by roughly 40 miles…both very similar and yet so very different.
Washington boasts the monuments and memorials, and Baltimore boasts a culture which is second to none. Baltimore at times looks with envy at the travel and tourism dollars that go into the Washington DC area due to people wanting to visit places such as the Capitol and the White House. Heck, while it certainly benefits Baltimore businesses as well, it rubs some people the wrong way that some folks fly into BWI and stay in Baltimore-area hotels citing cost…only to make the trek down to DC for sightseeing.
But while the city nor the people there would admit it, Washington also has a bit of a chip on it’s shoulder with regard to Baltimore. When Washingtonians look at Baltimore, they also see a vibrant city life with a very provincial and localized culture. As beautiful as the Georgetown waterfront is on the Potomac, it’s trumped by the waterfront scene in Canton. As awesome as DC half smokes taste, they’re no match for crab cakes with Old Bay. And as cool as it is to whip around the Potomac and see the memorials by sea, Baltimore has a much grander maritime tradition and feel to it. (Keep in mind that while the city lies on the Patapsco River, in reality it’s a bay town.)
I’ve thrown out a few cultural aspects of the two towns, but it boils down more to the populations than anything else. Washington has a very transient feel to it, mainly because of the Federal Government. DC is a destination place to live because of the great number of jobs – if not with the Federal Government, certainly tied to it. As I said above, Baltimore is much more provincial. The people feel so much more “local,” because they are. Now I’ will say that I’ve noticed that the Nationals themselves appear to be a point of unity among locals and transplants. While many of the transplants do keep their native hometown allegiances, they also seem to pull for the Nats as well. So perhaps in the future DC will have that aspect in it’s corner also.
But the fact is that the area is much smaller than it used to be. My mother grew up in Bethesda, MD in the 1950’s and ’60s, however when they would go back to Baltimore to visit relatives they left there
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would be a full day excursion and an exhausting drive (this according to her). Now that same trip is about as local of a drive as anything else. Offices around the region have splits between Orioles fans and Washington fans alike. However again, it’s that similarity in and of itself which makes these games so fun – and so important.
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I highlighted the differences between the cities above – but the fact is that we all share this mid-Atlantic region. We’re brought together by things such as the Battle of the Beltways between the O’s and Nats, as well as it’s football version – between the Redskins and Ravens (which will happen next month in preseason week three). Crab cakes and half smokes are both great things to each – at the ballpark or elsewhere. Heck, we all vacation together when we head down to Ocean City or the Delaware beaches, which we all get to by crossing the massive Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The point here is that while there’s certainly a rivalry aspect to this weekend’s Battle of the Beltways and we all have our differences, we’re more the same than we think. We work together, eat together, vacation together…and we have many of the same traditions. Speaking for myself (and mind you that as a native of this region I have family and friends that stand on both sides of the pole), I’m at home in both Baltimore and Washington. And I think that even the most bitter of partisans on both sides would agree in some manner – whether they’d admit it or not. But it’s a mid-Atlantic region thing…outsiders probably wouldn’t understand!