WASHINGTON — In the early weeks of the 2003 season, less than a year after the Chicago Cubs had finished 30 games out of first place in the National League Central, new manager Dusty Baker was asked who he thought would represent the league in the World Series.
He leaned back in his chair in his Wrigley Field office and thought about it for a moment.
"Why not us?" he said.
Well, there were plenty of reasons, not the least of which were the facts that the Cubs hadn't won a World Series in nearly a century or even shown up for one since 1945. But there was a new sheriff in town.
The Cubs came within one game — and one deflected pop foul — of reaching the Fall Classic that year after Baker had come up one win short of the world title the year before with the San Francisco Giants. He also played in three World Series and won one of them, so he knows a little something about dreams both destined and denied. Now, in his first year managing the Washington Nationals, he has a new one.
So, when he was asked whether he thought there was a possibility of the Nationals and Orioles meeting for all the marbles in October, he didn't hesitate. Why not, indeed.
"I was thinking how cool it would be, and I asked somebody what it would be called, and they told me the Beltway Series,'' Baker said Friday. "I was like, 'OK,' because people don't know how cool it was, even though we had the earthquake in '89, how great [the Bay Bridge Series] was economically and spiritually for the entire Bay Area.
"I've also talked to people with the Yankees and Mets [about the 2000 Subway Series]. That would be wonderful."
Sure, that's a long way to look ahead, but Baker has always been able to see something good on the horizon and instill the belief in his players that it is achievable.
This year, that's no great stretch.
Baker inherited a Nationals team that has terrific talent and it has jumped out to a strong start (13-4) in the National League East. The Orioles also are holding up their end, starting with a franchise record seven-game winning streak to open the season and are comfortably atop the AL East standings.
There are five two-team markets in Major League Baseball and three of them — Baltimore/Washington, Los Angeles/Anaheim and Chicago — have yet to experience the excitement of a commuter World Series.
"Most of the country might not really care like they do in L.A. and New York," Baker said, "but it would do wonders for this area, I think."
It's not an outrageous concept. It's not a wild fantasy.
"No, it's not,'' Baker said. "It's a real possibility. You're watching them. Some things are already written on the line and we just have to believe it."
Baker was hired to manage one of the most talented teams in either league and it features one of the most talented and exciting young superstars in the sport — 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. The Nationals entered the season as one of the NL teams most likely to make the playoffs and entered the weekend with the second-best record in the majors.
The Orioles didn't come in with that kind of pedigree. They opened the season ranked 23rd in ESPN's MLB Power Rankings, but they entered this weekend with the American League's best record (10-4) and had moved all the way up to sixth in the ESPN rankings.
They also have one of the most exciting young stars in the game in Manny Machado and feature one of the most power-packed lineups in recent memory, but will need to prove they can assemble a consistent starting rotation to make anyone believe they are a credible threat to survive multiple playoff rounds in October.
Fans of both teams will have to wait awhile just to see them face off during the home-and-home interleague series, which takes place this year in late August. By that time, we might have a better idea if this October possibility is really possible.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.