Fans, team expect negative impact
BALTIMORE -- Standing in front of his barbecue pit beyond the right-field wall at Camden Yards, big Boog Powell worried about the Montreal Expos' move to Washington.
"It's going to hurt us and our attendance, and it will hurt me here," the former Orioles star said Wednesday before Baltimore played Toronto. "I'm against it."
Orioles owner Peter Angelos fought bitterly to block the move, insisting that his team could not remain competitive with another major league team just 40 miles away. Angelos contended that a team in Washington would cause attendance to drop at his ballpark and create a financial shortfall.
"Our negotiations with major league baseball are continuing," Angelos said in statement issued Wednesday night. "We have made substantial progress but have not yet reached an agreement. Our aim has been to protect and preserve the Orioles franchise and the economic benefits it has generated for Baltimore for the past 50 years. Equally important have been our efforts to protect Maryland's investment in Camden Yards."
Since the Washington Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season, the Orioles have been the only big league team in town. That will change in 2005.
"There should not be a team there," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "The Baltimore Orioles should be the team in this area, end of story."
That was the story line for 33 years, but not anymore.
"Selfishly, I enjoyed being the only child," said Baltimore bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, now in his 36th season in an Orioles uniform. "I enjoyed being the only team all these years. I enjoyed the fans that came up from there; throughout the years we had a special bond with them."
Hendricks anticipates losing some of those friends once Washington begins play in the National League next year, and he also expects several Orioles fans to venture south.
"I'm sure some people will go down there to see the National League teams. I'm sure Barry Bonds will get a lot of fans," he said.
The Orioles drew an Expos-sized crowd to the first game of their doubleheader Wednesday, the makeup of a rainout the night before. While attendance at Camden Yards certainly won't dwindle to those proportions next year, there could be a drop-off if Baltimore doesn't show signs of ending a run of seven straight seasons without a winning record.
"Hopefully, the fan base will remain. Hopefully, we can keep them interested in coming to our ballpark," Hendricks said.
Winning might do the trick.
"No doubt about it," Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said. "They used to have standing-room only here every day."
Powell wonders if that can happen with a team in Washington, even when the transplanted Expos come to town for interleague play.
"There's not going to be a rivalry thing; there never was," he said.
Outside Camden Yards, John Cromer was concerned. He's been selling peanuts outside the park since it opened in 1992, and is thinking crowds will be down.
"My glass is half empty," he said while setting up his stand with $1 bags of nuts.
Not everyone is gloomy.
The new team won't keep Brent Moxley from making a 45-minute drive to see the Orioles.
Dressed in Orioles orange, Moxley said his loyalty wouldn't waver. His mother, Paula, said she felt the same way as the two paused before a stadium gate before catching the first game of a doubleheader.
"I'm an Oriole fan. I'll stay an Oriole fan," she said.
Once again, the season ticket holders made the drive from a Washington, D.C., suburb to watch baseball in a park with a nostalgic, classic, design that has been imitated around the country.
For Moxley, finally getting a baseball team in Washington is more of a novelty than a reason to change the colors on his cap.
"I'll still come here all the time, but go down there every now and then to see something a little different," Moxley said.
The Orioles, he said, are still "my No. 1."
Said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley: "What guarantees the attendance for the Orioles is a quality, winning team."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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