With Nationals out, Washington fans might return to their first love

For years, the Orioles were Washington's baseball team of choice. Lawyers and lobbyists would stop at the club's outlet store on Farragut Square on their lunch break and pick up tickets for games at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards.

Washington got its own club, the Nationals, in 2005. But thousands of fans never stopped following the team that was, for many, their first love.

In Washington, it seems socially acceptable to be a fan of both the Nationals and Orioles — Carter Phillips is just that. The Washington attorney is representing the Orioles in a lawsuit over how much money the Nationals should receive in rights fees from the clubs' shared TV network, MASN.

But Phillips has season tickets to Nationals games.

"The irony of this is not lost," Phillips said of backing one team in a lawsuit and its rival on the field. "I think it's fair to say I am a Nationals fan, [but] I actually like this year's Orioles team a lot."

With Baltimore advancing to its first American League Championship Series since 1997, Washington regards the Orioles' success with a mix of admiration and nostalgia, blended with contempt for owner Peter Angelos. Many Washingtonians haven't forgiven Angelos for initially opposing Major League Baseball's decision to relocate the former Montreal Expos toin the nation's capital.

But others apparently harbor little ill will.

"It's my belief that most Nats fans actually like the O's, considering them a cousin of sorts," said Nationals season-ticket holder Chris Alvord. He said he "most definitely will be wearing my 'Birds' cap and hoping for some Oriole magic" during the ALCS that begins Friday night at Camden Yards against the Kansas City Royals.

Alvord and another Nationals fan, Barb Angelino, 57, of Boyds said Washingtonians would like the Orioles even more if not for the history with Angelos. Angelino said she was backing the team in the playoffs "despite" the Orioles' owner.

Before the Nationals arrived, Alvord, 63, of Arlington, Va., counted himself among the legions of fans who periodically trekked to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. There were enough Orioles fans in Washington that a consulting firm concluded in 2004 that Baltimore's attendance would decline between 24 and 34 percent if a team were placed in D.C.

An untold number of those fans remain in the Washington area, which is part of both clubs' television territory. Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said the club has an estimate of just how many there are, but that the figure is private.

"I think there are a good amount," said David Cope, a sales industry consultant who has worked for the Orioles and the Nationals. "And now that the Nats are eliminated, I wouldn't be surprised if they root for their former favorite team."

Before this week, the two teams seemed on parallel tracks. Each franchise missed the playoffs for years before making it in 2012, only to lose in the divisional round. Both fell short of the postseason in 2013 before qualifying this year. They finished the regular season with identical records — 96 wins and 66 losses.

But the Nationals lost their division series to the San Francisco Giants, while the Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers.

There are enough Orioles fans in Washington that business is booming at Nanny O'Brien's, an Irish pub in northwest Washington that bills itself as an Orioles hangout. Plenty of Orioles memorabilia, including a photograph of the late Baltimore manager Earl Weaver, is on display in the dark-wood bar.

"This is really big for us," Michael Johnstone, the pub's general manager, said of the Orioles' resurgence.

In a nod to Camden Yards tradition, he plays "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" in the bar during the seventh-inning stretch of Orioles games.



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