A report went out today (July 22nd, 2004
) that certain members of the Montreal Expos
were told by front office officials that the team will find out where it will be playing in 2005
pending relocation. This story has added more fuel to the fire to the possibility that the struggling franchise will end up in Washington, D.C
or Northern Virginia
On ESPNs panel talk show, Around the Horn this was brought up. The conversation went something like this. (NOTE: I say something because in no way is this an exact transcript)
Jay Mariotti: "It's The Nation's Capital people. You all would want a team in Portland, Oregon over the Nation's Capital? And think of all the money in Northern Virginia! Put it in Downtown Northern Virginia.
Woody Paige: "Jay, 'Downtown' Northern Virginia is a myth...put the team in Vegas, it's the fastest growing city in the nation and the support would be overwhelming."
Michael Smith: "Clearly you guys have never been to Washington. D.C is the Redskins town. It's a football crazy town."
Tony Reali (who is in D.C live doing the show): "Wait, you can't put a team in D.C because it's a football crazy town?"
Michael Smith: "It'll be like the Devil Rays disaster in Tampa."
Bill Plaschke: "Well, most important, I don't think you people understand how D.C shuts down in the summer."
Michael Smith: "True"
Tony Reali: "Yeah."
Bill Plaschke: "The city has lost two franchises before, why give them another one?!"
Tony Reali: "As long as it's a downtown stadium, I'm fine. I want to see monuments in the outfield. Moving on..."
As a lifelong baseball fan and a lifelong resident of Northern Virginia, I was provoked quite a bit by the comments on Around The Horn and have closely followed reports on the possibility of a Major League Baseball team in Washington, D.C or Northern Virginia.
First of all, to discuss the Around the Horn conversation, no, there is no major "downtown" in Northern Virginia. Old Town Alexandria is close and is certainly D.C's true second city, various neighborhoods throughout Arlington County could easily mistake a first-timer for downtown D.C, and even a couple places in Fairfax County could be mistaken as "downtown"...except any native Manhattanite would think I'm retarded for saying that.
As for Woody Paige, a fine sports journalist, suggesting baseball in Las Vegas? Whoa, I don't think so. I used to wonder why Sin City wasn't a bigger sports town with a population of over 500,000. Well folks, the fact of the matter is Vegas is a Disney World town. The city has no identity of it's own from the people who actually live there and completely thrives on tourism. As opposed to D.C which is obviously a fantastic place for tourists yet contains a rich identity of it’s own. Vegas is simply a place to visit. Las Vegas is growing, yes (doubled in size since 1950 according to The 2004 World Almanac and Book of Facts). But the most hardcore sports fans in Vegas are the ones trying to make a buck at the bookies. Not really the people actually viewing and loving professional sports.
Yes, Mr. Smith makes a great point. The Washington Redskins are clearly #1 in D.C. This Fall, FedEx Field will seat over 90,000 people, making the largest stadium in the National Football League even larger. Every Sunday when the Skins play, way more than half the televisions that are on in the D.C metro area are watching the Skins. On top of that, an NFL best 80,499 fans on average pack FedEx Field.
Now, does this mean that the D.C area can't have a baseball team? God no! Yet that point about the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was good. Maybe a little too good. While myself and many others are hardcore fans of D.C's NBA team, the Washington Wizards and D.C's NHL team, the Washington Capitals, in the 2003-2004 NBA and NHL seasons respectively, the 'Zards were 21st out of 29 teams in average attendance and the Caps were 25th out of 30 teams in average attendance. Though the excuse can be made that both of these teams play in the same season as the Redskins and the Skins steal their thunder with the media and the public’s interest.
Yet it's not like summer sports have a bunch of zing in D.C anyway. While the Washington Mystics had a great run a couple summers ago (and have multiple cheesy-as-hell “Attendance Champion” banners cluttering the MCI Center rafters) and Freddy Adu has brought excitement back to the D.C United franchise, both the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer are still second rung pro sports leagues and the Redskins can garner up more media coverage and public concern on the offseason than those teams can during their regular seasons.
The biggest example of this was on August 18th, 2002. The Washington Freedom, the D.C franchise in the now defnuct Women's United Soccer Association won the league championship, and yet, more media coverage was given to the Washington Redskins preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers than to the championship winning Washington Freedom team!
And the one thing during the broadcast that offended me was proposing that D.C shuts down in the summer. Like I said, yeah, pro sports in the D.C area aren't nearly as big of a deal when it's warmer outside opposed to when it's not, but it's not like the entire place dies. I honestly doubt Washingtonians vacation any more than Bostonians, New Yorkers, Philadelphians, Chicagoans and whatever they call people from L.A. Why not accuse those cities of shutting down over the summer as well? D.C is one of the few hard working AND hard partying cities in the nation, and it's like that year round.
And as a final response to the Around the Horn broadcast: There is NO WAY you could build a ballpark in D.C that has all the monuments on display in the outfield from the seats. The closest thing you can get is following through on the idea of putting a stadium in the Arlington, Virginia neighborhood of Rosslyn. The idea for that stadium will have a good amount of D.C on display in the outfield, plus a ball hit over 400 some odd feet would splash down in the Potomac River, a la McCovey Cove at SBC Park in San Francisco.
Yet, I think that many people have overlooked one huge issue in the effort to get baseball in or around Washington, D.C: The recent political history with affairs very similar to this in the area.
Baseball coming to D.C has attracted nationwide media attention. People find it hard to believe that the capital of the United States of America doesn't have a professional team for it's national pastime. Yet, the media has completely overlooked some recent decisions made by D.C area governments.
In 2000, the Fairfax County government shot down a plan to built a 8,000-seat stadium near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station near Vienna, Virginia.
People have lobbied for locations in Fairfax County such as Springfield and Mount Vernon as possible sites for a baseball park. Yet If a 8,000 seat stadium housing a minor league baseball team gets voted down in Fairfax County due to traffic and construction issues, does anybody truly believe that a 40,000 seat stadium housing a major league team in Fairfax County is really going to happen?
Another plan also has a stadium being built in Dulles, Virginia. Which is the home of Washington Dulles International Airport and America Online's corporate headquarters. Yet enough people already complain about having to drive over twenty five miles from Loudoun County to Washington, D.C when flying into Dulles...who thinks people are going to want to make this drive to see a major league baseball team?
Alexandria, Virginia citizens made sure that FedEx Field wasn't built in city limits in 1996 and also vetoed the idea for a Walt Disney theme park being built in 1993. Both were mostly due to traffic issues. Not to mention Arlington County officials have been pretty skeptical about every single idea for a stadium.
Yet suburban stadiums are becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the actual District of Columbia only has one possible location. Which is to built where RFK Stadium stands right now, which would take a good amount of money, support and time. People are also forgetting that the idea of tearing down RFK Stadium was also brought up in another failed attempt to bring more sports to D.C, which was the attempt to bring the 2012 Olympic Games to Washington.
And then, there's the major thing working against the possibility of a Major League Baseball team in the D.C area.
You see, there's this team only 90 minutes up I-95 from Washington, D.C. Perhaps you've heard of them. They have a ton of Hall of Famers, three World Series titles and fifty glorious years of playing for some of the most appreciative and loyal fans in the history of baseball.
Yes, the Baltimore Orioles.
It may sound crazy, the fact that with almost 8 million people living in both the D.C and Baltimore metro areas, that two teams wouldn't work. But I can see situations when they'll be a home game in D.C and at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on the same night, and both stadiums will only have around 10,000 fans in the seats. They'll be over 75,000 empty seats combined in two ballparks just 90 minutes from each other. Ouch.
And while the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens are both HUGE draws and play about an hour and a half away from each other, they’re some exceptions. D.C is one of, if not THE most football crazy town in the nation. Baltimore has not only had recent success in football but a rich football history, as the Baltimore Colts were one of the defining sports franchises of the mid-20th century in America before they moved to Indiana-No-Place. Or in other words, the Washington-Baltimore region is a lot more into pigskin than baseball.
And while some think its crazy, they’re actually a couple of good reasons why but the Orioles are "D.C's team." Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world, the trek to Baltimore gives people the satisfaction of "getting away" while still remaining very much at home, plus, the Orioles are a team of rich tradition with a great past and with recent key signings and fantastic player development, a hopeful future.
Now, personally, I think despite the obstacles of the Orioles, the recent government decisions and the overall possibility that Major League Baseball officials have still not officially said what will happen with the Montreal Expos, I think there's a chance that baseball in D.C will happen within the next three years, if not sooner. Yet, even living in Annandale, Virginia and considering Washington, D.C to be my home city, I'm a hardcore Baltimore Orioles fan. And like many Washington Redskins fans who didn't care and certainly didn't "change sides" when the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, no matter how great this team is, and no matter how much I may love many other teams that have Washington in their name, I am a Baltimore Orioles fan for life, and I know most O's diehards like me feel the same way.
That is, we feel that if baseball came to D.C, the best thing about it would be saving an hour on the drive to see the Orioles play on days when they come to D.C to play interleague games.