By David Driver, email@example.com
1:17 PM EDT, October 2, 2012
Is Laurel at the center of the Major League Baseball universe? That may be a stretch, but then again it was also far-fetched at the beginning of the season that the Baltimore Orioles would have a winning record, let alone make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
And how many predicted that the Washington Nationals would go into the last day of the season with a chance to have the best record in the Major Leagues?
Sports Illustrated came out last week with a cover titled "Washington-Baltimore: The Unlikely Sports Capital," and had stories on the Orioles, Nationals and Redskins. We will throw aside the Redskins for now — because we can — and focus on baseball.
Washington-Baltimore is indeed an unlikely baseball capital. The Nationals lost 103 games in 2009 and the Orioles had not had a winning season in 15 years. Washington did not even have a team from after the 1971 season, when the Senators left for Texas, until the Nationals came here from Montreal in time for the 2005 season.
But with both teams now post-season bound, fans in Laurel have the best of both worlds. It is even possible that the Beltway Series could morph into the World Series later this month.
It is 22.3 miles from the Laurel Municipal Center on Sandy Spring Road to Camden Yards in Baltimore. And it's 22.5 miles from those city hall offices to Nationals Park. You can't get much closer than that.
Within a span of 24 hours earlier this week fans at each park enjoyed a special moment. The fans at Nationals Park erupted late Monday night when the scoreboard showed that the Pirates had beaten the Braves, which clinched the National League East division title for Washington as the Nats came to bat in the last of the ninth.
The first title for the Nats took on special meaning for rookie infielder/outfielder Steve Lombardozzi, who grew up in Fulton and went to Atholton High in Howard County. "It is very exciting," Lombo said before Monday's game. "Even in the minors I could see things coming together. We felt like we had a solid team in spring training. We have been consistent all year."
The Nationals had a chance to lock up the division title over the Braves last weekend in St. Louis but lost two of three games to the Cardinals. That set up the scenario Monday in the first game of a home series against Philadelphia to end regular-season play.
"We want to get this done in front of the home fans," Lombo said before Monday's game. And that is what happened, even though the Nats lost, 2-0, to the Phillies while Pittsburgh beat Atlanta.
The Orioles beat the Red Sox, 6-3, on Sunday afternoon to complete a three-game sweep. Minutes later the players stood on the field and watched the scoreboard as the Angels-Rangers game was being played. A win by the Rangers would have clinched a playoff spot for the Orioles, but the Angels came up with two runs in the top of the ninth (and later won) as the Orioles watched on television from the clubhouse. But not before the team was showered with applause from their fans in a moment that brought back memories of 1979, when some of the Baltimore players spelled out O-R-I-O-L-E-S at one of the last home games of the season that began Orioles Magic.
Baltimore starter pitcher Joe Saunders, who got the win on Sunday against the Red Sox, grew up in Springfield, Va., and went to games at Camden Yards as a youth in the 1990s.
"It was a special moment for me, growing up here," Saunders said. "I was very humbled to get this opportunity to do this and come out and get a victory for the ball club."
The Orioles found out they made the playoffs late Sunday when the Angels lost to the Rangers in the second game of a double-header in Texas.
"Our goal now is to try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden Yards," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said after Sunday's game.
Who would have dreamed such a statement, on the eve of October, back in spring training?
David Driver is the former sports editor of the Laurel Leader.