The Case FOR Baseball in DC

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Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the New York Yankees trounce the Baltimore Orioles 10-4. So the Yankees bought their talent ? isn’t that what professional baseball teams are supposed to do? Alex Rodriguez’s salary is indeed bloated, but after seeing him belt two homers — and drive in half of the Yankees’ runs — I certainly feel like he was worth every penny. He made me a believer.

I’m sure he made a number of Orioles fans believers, too, even if they didn’t like the score. Last night was the highest attendance EVER at Camden Yards. 49,696 people came to the game. And though it was a great night for a ballgame, I’m pretty sure that many people showed up on a Tuesday evening just to watch A-Rod play.

Baseball is back, and early attendance records can back me up. For this reason, but not for this reason alone, I’d like to advocate the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, DC.

I know, I know. I’ve often complained about Washington’s lousy record of supporting its teams. But I think baseball has a chance. After all, the sport is America’s pastime, so why shouldn’t it be played in the nation’s capital?

It was pouring and rush hour when we left Washington for the 7:05 start of the Yanks-Os game. We had no idea if the air would clear or whether the game would be canceled due to rain. We’d have to call the Camden Yards info line or listen to AM radio to find out. Luckily, we were blessed with almost perfect weather once the teams teed off, but we’re not always that lucky.

Baltimore is a cool city. But DC fans of baseball can’t for the sake of time or weather or gas prices — hello? — make the hour or more commute to Baltimore every weeknight for a ballgame. The journey takes about the same amount of time by MARC train — that is if the commuter rail is running on schedule.

Not surprisingly, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been lukewarm at best on the idea of baseball in DC. The worry is that a DC team would poach “fans” (a.k.a., ticket purchasers) from Baltimore. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t hear any worries from Redskins management when Baltimore finally landed the Ravens. In all the time that the city was without an NFL team, Baltimore never accepted the Redskins as its home team. DC baseball lovers go to Baltimore because it’s the only game in town, but if Washingtonians had the chance to stroll over to the baseball stadium after work, rather than drive 40 miles, you can bet they’d warm to a DC-based team in a hurry.

The fact of the matter is that the DC metropolitan area is greater than Baltimore. DC beats its neighbor to the north in population; moreover, it is the 8th largest media market in the country. Baltimore is a distant 23rd. The media market argument is also a compelling reason why Norfolk, who’s competing with DC and Northern Virginia for the Expos, absolutely does not deserve a team.

My greatest fear is that the team will be awarded to Northern Virginia. On Monday, the N.VA group revealed that they wouldn’t have to raise taxes or introduce legislation in order to move a team there. Maybe it’s because sprawl runs rampant in N.VA. I mean, this is a state that closely guards its Civil War heritage by paving over it. Washington traffic is some of the worst in the country, and it’s especially bad in N.VA. Imagine how the building of and commuting to a baseball stadium would exacerbate the problem.

One thing that Baltimore’s Camden Yards has going for it is that it is a gem of a stadium, located right in the heart of the business district. Folks are able to leave work, grab a beer, and head to the stadium in a single motion. Once you’re in town, all roads, buses, and trains lead to Camden Yards. Bars, restaurants, and local vendors within the immediate vicinity of the stadium thrive on game night. Even people who don’t buy tickets are drawn to the energy of downtown Baltimore.

If the Expos were to relocate to Washington, they’d play for a time in RFK, erstwhile home of the Redskins and current home of DC United (also being threatened with a move to N.VA). In the interim, developers would scout out a location for a new stadium in the heart of downtown. Perhaps this would be the prime opportunity to revitalize DC’s waterfront. If Baltimore can do it, certainly DC can.

Perhaps a stadium within the DC city limits would even help alleviate traffic, as it would ease rush-hour congestion. It sounds counterintuitive. But when you think of it, a nighttime event like a baseball game could ease the mass exodus that occurs between 3 and 7pm. Maybe people with plans to go to the game after work and guzzle a few beers would be more inclined to use public transportation to get to work that day, which would help Metro’s ever-depleted coffers and, hopefully, decrease the number of drunk drivers. I shouldn’t even have to mention the economic benefit to bars and hotels that a downtown baseball stadium could bring. Downtown DC ? I’m talking the Farragut area to the Potomac — is a ghost town at night and on the weekends. Baseball could liven things up, if only during the summer months.

Baseball in DC is only natural. In fact, it was 80 years ago this year that the Washington Senators won the World Series. Sure, it’s been a long drought, but it’s still shorter than that of either the Red Sox or the Cubs. What’s more, Texas (where the Senators were eventually moved in 1971) hasn’t even seen a World Series, much less lost one.

Wherever the Expos may play next year, the team will remain part of the National League. And that’s a good thing. For one, DC residents who are fans of the American League Orioles or Yankees (there are many), will not have to feel guilty if they also root for a DC team. Of course, when inter-league play begins, the rivalry could be fierce enough to generate brisk ticket sales.

If there’s one thing that former Rangers owner George W. Bush could do to help this city, it would be to bring America’s game to America’s capital. It’s probably the most patriotic thing he could do.

Further Reading:
DC Baseball Q&A [ESPN]
DC Baseball Article Archive [WP]
DC Baseball Bulletin Board []
Washington Baseball Club []