With the O's in DC this week, we find ourselves watching National League games for the first time in a while. Some people like interleague play, and some don't - either view point is fine with me. But I'm a fan of it. People might ask how I can call myself a purist and like interleague play. The answer is because, as I said, I'm a purist - the pitcher is part of the team, so why shouldn't he have to swing a bat?
But speaking for myself, the "Battle of the Beltways" is extra special. Everyone in both camps either knows or is related to people in the other. That's all part of having two teams in the region, as do folks in New York, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. They've been dealing with local series like this for longer than we have here in the Balimore/Washington region.
I've said this before, but I'll do so again. My late grandfather was a catcher in the Washington Senators' semi-pro system. Nowadays, of course what was then called semi-pro is now called the minor leagues. So maybe he played for a team similar to the Potomac Nationals. Ultimately, he was offered a big league tryout - but he had his heart set on being a dentist. He was a fairly well-known dentist in the Washington area for years, and my mother was the second of his seven kids (with me being his first grandchild).
By the time I was born in 1981, the Orioles were the only team he could really follow since the Senators were long gone. But many families in this region have connections like that to both teams, and while it might well cause some divisions, it also brings families together for games - in both parks and on TV.
The battle between these two teams isn't fought so much on the field as it is at family picnics and offices. I know of many O's fans who have associates with Nationals merchandise in the cubicle next to them. That's part of having two teams. Again, this certainly isn't the subway series, given that Baltimore and Washington are two distinct cities. But the line between home white and road gray can certainly be blurred just a bit.
My family has a very special relationship with these games, starting as I said with my grandfather. However, in 2006, when the two teams played their first regular season series against each other, our family attended the entire series (and every year since then). I can't quite drive home how strange it was to see the O's hitting first in the inning and wearing gray that first year!
We arrived at RFK Stadium an hour or so before first pitch. As we sat watching batting practice, some folks from the "Nats Pack" approached us. We were informed that they were going to have a fan from each team toss out a first pitch before the game - and they wanted to know if my sister Joanna wanted to "represent the Orioles."
To her undying credit, at first she said she'd love to but that "her brother would probably like to do it more." Unfortunately for me, they asked her and they were steadfast in that. But she got to throw out the first pitch "representing the Orioles," which was pretty cool to see.
And it's moments like that which make these series great. There were quite a few years where the Oriole Bird would make the trek down to RFK and later Nationals Park, and Screech would come up to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And I had mixed feelings about that for quite a while. Could one see Mr. Met traveling to the Bronx? Probably not. But perhaps it's little tips of the cap like that to one another that makes this "rivalry" stand out.
Strategically, I will say that I agree with Buck Showalter in that it does seem a bit strange to play these games so late in the season. The O's are at an obvious disadvantage in terms of losing their designated hitter at a sensitive moment in the season. Granted, they probably thought they'd be closer to the top than they are; however, you get my point. They're still in the hunt, thus all of the other teams have an advantage over them.
At the end of the day, as I said, some people like these games and some don't. But the fans overall seem to like them, so they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
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. Follow him on Twitter: @DomenicVadala. 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.