First off, I want to offer my thanks to our nation's veterans who we celebrate today on this Memorial Day. I hope that all Americans remember that we should keep the heroism of our nation's service members in mind on all days, not only today. My late grandfather, Dr. Anthony Launi, was a World War II veteran, and later a catcher in the Washington Senators' minor league system before settling in Bethesda to practice dentistry and raise his family, which included my mother.
Today is also a special day in the mid-Atlantic region, as the Orioles head to our nation's capital for a series with the Washington Nationals. On a side note, I'm not a fan of how Major League Baseball is doing the regional rivalry games this year and beyond. I liked how, in the past, they'd play three-game weekend series in both parks in May and June. I feel that it made for a great experience for all fans, as it was a nice road trip without having to really leave home. Instead, starting this year, we have back-to-back two-game series, first at Nationals Park, then Wednesday and Thursday at Camden Yards. The games will be fun for the fans, but I'm not sure they'll be the same as they were in years past.
Anyone that attended even one of last year's games knows what an amazing atmosphere they had, and I suspect that at the very least we'll see that at Nationals Park this afternoon. If the past is any indication, the crowd will most certainly be pro-Nationals, which is how it should be since they're the home team. However, again using the past as a barometer, the Orioles will be very well-represented in the stands. Last year, some of the Orioles players even commented about the support they got on the road. And again, these games are really for the fans.
The fans of the mid-Atlantic region really have a lot to be happy about as we progress into the Battle of the Beltways. Obviously, on the Orioles side, we hear about the likes of Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, et al. on a daily basis. Washington fans hear about Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and company daily, as well. Both franchises have young stars who are turning into household names, keeping area baseball fans occupied in following both sets of players. And as I think you'll see later this afternoon, all of those fans (on both sides) will be out in full force.
Speaking for myself, the first thing that ever struck me about watching the Orioles at RFK Stadium and later Nationals Park was seeing them in gray and watching them bat first in the inning. That might not sound like a big deal, but it's kind of bizarre when you see it for the first time. Again, it's small things that make these games so great for the fans. I think that what sets the Battle of the Beltways apart from its counterparts is that while Baltimore and Washington are very close in proximity and are part of the same region, they are two different cities with two very different feels. Its crab cakes against half smokes, the Inner Harbor against the Georgetown waterfront and the Harbor Tunnel against the 14th Street Bridge.
One feature about Nationals Park that I really like is that they feature different tributes to various Hall of Famers across baseball. Orioles fans attending a game should stop at the right field corner area of Nationals Park - underneath the stairwell to go up to the scoreboard walk area. There's a mural on the wall with a quote from Cal Ripken Jr.'s Hall of Fame induction speech greeting fans as they head up the steps, which in a way neatly ties together baseball in this region.
Washington fans might not always pull for the Orioles as much as they used to, but even the most ardent Oriole-hater (in Washington or anywhere else) is going to love Cal. These next few days will feature the best of our home region in all aspects, from food, sports and people. I'm specifically looking forward to seeing Oriole pitchers hit, as I feel that pitchers hitting is something that's lost nowadays.
So who wins these games? Beats the heck out of me, but we'll find out starting today.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.