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Orioles, Nationals fans meet halfway in Laurel

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Few people were walking around downtown Laurel Tuesday evening, but at Main Street Sports Grill, nearly every seat at the bar was taken for happy hour.

Since April marks the start of Major League Baseball play, the multiple flat-screen televisions behind the bar were showing ESPN's highlights from games across the nation.

However, come 7 p.m., ESPN would be replaced by coverage of two games, one featuring the Baltimore Orioles, and the other the Washington Nationals.

Laurel is sandwiched between Baltimore and Washington, about a half-hour drive away from either city, and at Main Street Sports Grill, baseball loyalties were divided between the two teams.

Laurel resident Ken Levine said he roots for the Orioles because he initially had no team in the Washington area to follow. The Nationals formed in 2005, bringing professional baseball back to the District for the first time in more than 30 years.

"I grew accustomed to the Orioles and stayed with them, even though the Nationals are the better team," Levine said.

Levine said he enjoys watching the Nationals play well, but he roots for the Orioles whenever the two teams meet.

Mark St.Clair, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army, moved back to Laurel in February to work at Fort Meade. Although he grew up in Seattle and is a Mariners fan at heart, the Nationals are his local team of choice, he said.

"The Nationals have a superb team," St.Clair said.

St.Clair said he has attended several games at Nationals Park, calling it "a beautiful ballpark" and saying the "fans are great."

Regarding the Orioles, he said he "honestly hates every team in that division," the American League East, which also includes the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays.

St. Clair said he typically sees more Nationals fans at Main Street Sports Grill, especially those who also come to the bar to watch Washington Capitals hockey games.

Charles Turner, sitting at the far end of the bar, falls in the middle of the Orioles and Nationals divide in Laurel.

"I'm kind of split," Turner said.

Turner's split loyalty was expressed literally. A dark blue jacket with a Nationals logo sat on the back of his chair, and he was wearing a green polo shirt he got from Sarasota, Fla., during the Orioles' spring training.

Turner moved to the area in 1970, one year before the Washington Senators were sold and became the Texas Rangers.

"Once the Senators left, I became a fan of the Orioles for a while," he said.

Turner said he was excited when the Nationals filled the district's baseball void.

"I might as well start becoming a Nats fan, too," he said.

He especially enjoyed seeing both teams make the playoffs last season, and said he wanted to see a Beltway World Series.

Despite the polarized loyalties of the other baseball fans sitting at the bar, Turner said he doesn't mind rooting for both teams.

"I have friends who are Nationals fans, and I have friends who are Orioles fans," he said. "To me, it's all good."

A collector's perspective

A block away from Main Street Sports Grill, Rick Currence is operating another haven for Laurel sports fans:Sports Card Heroes, a sports card and memorabilia shop that has been on Main Street for more than 20 years.

Overall, the business attracts more Orioles fans than Nationals fans, Currence said.

The Nationals "don't have the history to draw from that would be of interest to my customer base," Currence said.

"I think a lot of the fans that started collecting Nats stuff may not have necessarily been Orioles fans to begin with," he said. "For the most part O's fans stayed with the O's."

Orioles fans are drawn to Sports Card Heroes because their team has decades' worth of stars and traditions, Currence said. With that in mind, he arranged for Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who spent his entire career with the Orioles, to do an in-store autograph signing on May 18.

Several active players on the Orioles and Nationals have cards and memorabilia that are popular among customers, Currence said, but "the old classic guys still outsell the new guys."

Regardless of which team they root for, the fans that come into Sports Card Heroes are passionate about their teams, Currence said.

"Even if they're not buying an item, they come in wearing the hats and jackets, and they talk about the games," he said. "I would expect that, or I wouldn't be in a store like this."

Dan Singer is a journalism student at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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