For all of those hoping that the interleague competition between the Orioles and the Washington Nationals would turn into an honest-to-goodness regional rivalry, there is good news to report as both teams prepare for the four-game home-and-home series that begins on Monday at Nationals Park. Both teams have achieved a standing in their own leagues that makes their head-to-head showdowns have real meaning. Maybe not Orioles/Yankees or Nats/Braves real meaning, but certainly enough significance that we can start finding irrational reasons for fans of both teams to start hating each other. Bryce Harper's hair, for instance. Anyway, in the spirit of continuing to build a contentious relationship between the Mid-Atlantic's two major league franchises, here's our Tale of the Tape.
The old St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore for the 1954 season and were renamed after a charming orange bird indigenous to the Mid-Atlantic region. In relatively short order, the team shed its long history of futility and became a dominant franchise in the American League, reaching the World Series six times from 1966-83 and winning world titles in '66, '70 and '83. Known far and wide for developing great homegrown players and schooling them in a philosophy known as the "Oriole Way."
The old Montreal Expos moved to Washington for the 2005 season and were renamed to reflect their new standing as baseball's representative in the nation's capital. The original Washington franchise's nickname was "Senators," but the newly relocated team chose not to re-adopt that name, probably because Major League Baseball enforces a strict debt limit and only allows spending on pork at the concession stands. The Expos and Nats have combined to reach the playoffs twice in 44 years and have a history of developing great homegrown players and quickly trading them to other teams.
The Orioles entered the weekend with a 25-22 record and ranked third in the American League East, 3 ½ games behind the first-place Yankees. They have been in a two-week slump in which they lost 8 of 11 games after climbing to a high-water mark of eight games over .500 in early May.
The Nats entered the weekend with a 24-23 record and ranked second in the National League East, four games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. They have hovered around the .500 level for much of the early season and have never been more than five games above sea level. They also have been struggling of late, losing eight of their last 12 games going into the weekend.
The Oriole Bird has become one of the best-loved mascots in professional sports since it was "hatched" at Memorial Stadium back in 1979, so this is its 35th season entertaining fans young and old at the ballpark and in the community. Even though it is one of the classic mascots, the Bird actually was ahead of its time, since it started tweeting decades before social media.
The Nats have a bird mascot, too. Screech is a bald eagle who was christened at the start of the team's first season in Washington (2005). He wears a Nats uniform and is not in any way related to the obnoxious character of the same name in the 1990s sitcom Saved By The Bell.
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette made his name as a young baseball executive as the GM of the Expos, building a competitive team on a tight budget that had the best record in baseball when the 1994 season was ended prematurely by baseball's labor stoppage. He became the Orioles' GM in 2011 and presided over the club's first playoff run since 1997.
Of course, the man who led the Orioles on that wire-to-wire march to the postseason in 1997 was manager Davey Johnson, who took the O's to the playoffs in consecutive seasons as manager and also played in four World Series in an Orioles uniform during the team's glory years. He led the Nationals to the NL East title last season.
Top young player
Third baseman Manny Machado hasn't gotten quite the level of hype that followed flamboyant Nats outfielder Bryce Harper to the major leagues, but he has quickly elevated himself into the same statistical realm as Harper and young Angels superstar Mike Trout. He entered the weekend batting .330 and leading the major leagues in at-bats and doubles while ranked behind only Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in hits.
There's no question that Bryce Harper is already a superstar, but if things don't work out for him in baseball, he can probably start his own line of rockabilly hair care products. The guy was the NL Rookie of the Year last year and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with for the next couple of decades, but he only trumps Manny in the home run column — with 12. Machado is having a better all-around season so far.
Orioles Esskay Hot Dog race
The Orioles stage the nightly Esskay Hot Dog Race between innings at Camden Yards, much to the delight of fans who have run out of money for concessions. The competition pits speedy frankfurters named Mustard, Ketchup and Relish in a race around the bases. Betting is frowned upon, but if you must have action to enjoy the race, keep in mind that Ketchup likes to come from behind.
Nationals Presidents Race
During the the fourth inning of every Nats home game, five presidential mascots engage in a rough-and-tumble race around the warning track at Nationals Park. The competitors include the four presidents immortalized on Mount Rushmore — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt — and William Howard Taft. The promotion is so popular that the "racing presidents" have made several appearances at the White House.
Washington Monument (Baltimore)
Since Baltimoreans don't believe that size really matters, they built the first monument to George Washington to a scale that fit well into the heart of the city. Baltimore's Washington Monument is the classy centerpiece of the Mount Vernon neighborhood that reminds everyone that Charm City was once a pretty cool place during the neoclassical architectural period.
Washington Monument (DC)
The Washington Monument in the National Mall is nice, too, if you're into giant sterile obelisks that would make Fellini blush. But if a hostile UFO ever decides to land in the Mall, it's going to be in for a very unpleasant surprise.
Most unique concession item
Stuggy's Mac n' Cheese Dog
Men's Journal recently rated the Stuggy's Mac n' Cheese Dog as the best concession food item at Oriole Park (though we're still partial to Boog's Barbeque). The dog is split down the middle and filled with a combination of macaroni and cheese and lump crab meet and sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning. It's off the menu of the parent restaurant in Fells Point and it brings together all three major Baltimore food groups – ballpark food, diner food and blue crabs.
Chicken and Waffle Sandwich
This Nationals Park delicacy brings together a fried chicken breast covered in syrup with a pair of waffles to create a sandwich fit for, well, somebody with a hangover. If you fall (or stumble) into that category, go to Change Up Chicken behind Section 129. Otherwise, there are two Ben's Chili Bowl locations (Section 109 and 140).
Local television network
The Orioles share the local television market with the Nationals, but got the lion's share of the revenues from the jointly created Mid-Atlantic Sports Network as part of the settlement to allow the Nats to move into the region.
This is a sore subject. Let's move on.
It's entirely possible that we're a little bit prejudiced, but it seems pretty obvious that the Oriole experience is superior to what you get if you venture into the District for your baseball fix. The O's have the scenic Warehouse and Boog Powell signing autographs next to his grill on Eutaw Street. Nationals Park has a view of the Capitol building from the upper deck, but who wants a constant reminder that both the Nats and the government are over budget.