Out at home?


SO, WOULD THIS be a good week for the Orioles, or a bad week?

In light of their swings and misses at the winter meetings, you'd figure it was a bad week. On Tuesday night, though, it got very good. They may not have a staff ace or an extra bat for next season, but apparently they won't have a fan- and revenue-sucking phenomenon putting down roots an hour down the road, either. In their eyes, on the list of all-time huge tradeoffs in franchise history, this might top the Frank Robinson deal.

Problem is, the Orioles' fan base likely won't look at the imminent demise of the Washington Nationals as favorably as the Orioles themselves do.

Why not? Consider what a desperate Orioles fan might have been thinking as the hotel in Anaheim cleared out of baseball execs and agents earlier this week. Great, he or she might have said, with everybody we wanted, we were a day late and a dollar short. How many more times do we have to go through this? And ... how come Washington's adding players? They don't have an owner, a stadium or uniforms, and their GM is renting by the week. Man, I wonder if I should give up, save myself an hour's drive on I-95 and spend my money and time at RFK next year?

That's only Peter Angelos' worst nightmare, and the reason he's fought against a team in D.C. from the beginning, before the beginning. You know it was coming true, not in every mind, but enough to make for an interesting winter and, of course, spring. After all, in one of those crazy flukes that tend to surface in two-team markets, the Nationals' home opener was scheduled for the same April day that the Yankees were to come to town.

Who would have been willing to bet against RFK Stadium sounding like Camden Yards that night, and Camden Yards sounding like Yankee Stadium? Especially if the Orioles showed up looking like, well, the same old Orioles.

As talk of the Expos moving to D.C. grew - and when the big announcement was made - the palpable sense of fear and fury was limited largely to the Orioles' offices. Around town, it was hard to find large numbers of Orioles loyalists getting bent out of shape by a perceived threat from the new team. The message was being sent.

Finally, the organization's feet (read: Angelos') were going to be held to the fire. Give us a reason to come back to Camden Yards besides the crab cakes, the faithful said, or else we'll do a U-turn and head back south faster than you can say "regional sports network." Go ahead, take your payoff from your fellow owners to smooth the road from Montreal to D.C., secure your revenues - but you'd better still take care of us. Throw us a bone once in a while, a little September contention, even a little October action. Or else.

Whether that all provided a sense of urgency for the Orioles' brass in Anaheim last week isn't certain. They did make runs at the big names. They've done that before, of course. They weren't always the right names, and the fact that they hit it big with Miguel Tejada didn't automatically grant them the benefit of the doubt. There have been too many Albert Belles in the past to guarantee any of that, not to mention the previous swings and misses, or the times they kept the bat on their shoulders.

Nevertheless, as long as the D.C. baseball deal was still alive, the Orioles had to respect the fans' shiny new option. After they moved up the start of single-game ticket sales by a month, they no longer could deny the power of the new competition. They definitely could not once the ex-Expos' list of season-ticket deposits hit 15,000 last month. (Think a few of them had previously sworn their allegiance to the Orioles during the past three decades?) They absolutely could not when shoppers in some Maryland counties leaned toward putting red caps with a script "W" under lots of trees this season.

Too bad for those fans, of course, that they trusted D.C.'s city politicians. Should've known better. What now, trust the ones in Northern Virginia who are trying to revive their failed bid? That's a long shot (no pun intended, even with Las Vegas in the running).

No, fans of this market are back to counting on the Orioles to feed their baseball jones - if they still have one after this recent stretch of ineptitude. There's no more fire to which the Orioles' feet can be held, at least no more than the usual ones lit by the Yankees and Red Sox. That hasn't been enough over the past seven years, so it's hard to see where the one temporarily lit by a team likely heading back out of Washington would make a difference now.

Now that baseball's Big Tease is virtually over in D.C., Orioles fans have a right to feel as betrayed as those still hoarding their souvenirs from Bat Day at RFK in '68. They were waiting for their chance to ask Angelos, "What are you gonna do for me?" instead of being asked that by him.

The most handsome suitor they'd had in a long time is being chased out of town. Orioles fans are all alone again, and they shouldn't be very happy about it.

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