- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

The war for the hearts and minds of Washington-area baseball fans was fought yesterday in the Battle of Farragut Square, and it was a victory for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles held their annual D.C. FanFest in Farragut Square, an event the club began three years ago to establish its presence in a Washington market that has been pursuing a team of its own.
More fans turned out yesterday than ever before. The same was true of personnel from the Orioles, who sent their biggest contingent ever to plant the team flag in the heart of the District.
The Orioles presence is a source of controversy in the Washington area, which has been trying for several years to secure a major league club to replace the Senators team that departed in 1971. The Orioles have resisted efforts to put another team so close, and if they scored an uncontested victory yesterday at FanFest, the fight clearly isnt over.
Fans stood in long lines under the hot sun to get autographs from a group of relatively anonymous players — Cal Ripken wasnt there, but John Parrish and Jay Gibbons were — most of whom were unknown to them.
They would have been just as excited to get autographs from a Washington-area team, and they dont think the Orioles should try to prevent one from coming — something owner Peter Angelos steadfastly has sought to do.
Maxine Rheingold is an Orioles fan from Silver Spring who grew up watching baseball in Washington and believes it will be back.
"It is coming back here, and I dont think the Orioles can stop it," she said. "I dont think it will hurt them."
David Hartzell of Alexandria also wants baseball back in the Washington area, even though he waited in line yesterday for an Orioles autograph.
"The Orioles are the closest team we have now," he said. "But if there was a team here Id be there, especially if it was in Northern Virginia. When the Orioles came to Baltimore in 1954, they had to get permission from the Washington Senators to move.
"They owe us something."
Washington-area residents werent the only ones who welcomed the notion of baseball back in the District. Todd Brown is a Hampstead, Md., resident — thats Carroll County, in the Orioles back yard — who thinks a team here would be welcomed by all fans of the game.
"It would be cool to have a National League team here," he said. "I think there are enough fans to go around."
So does the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
The Stadium Authority released a study three weeks ago that contradicted the Orioles key argument against putting a team in Washington — that 20 percent to 25 percent of the clubs fan base comes from the Washington-Northern Virginia area.
The study concluded that the Orioles draw just 4 percent of their fans from Northern Virginia, 1 percent from the District and 8 percent from Montgomery and Prince Georges counties, and it heightened the battle between the Orioles and the forces seeking to bring baseball back to the Washington area.
A Virginia group led by Bill Collins and a D.C. group headed by Fred Malek are trying to relocate an existing major league franchise to the area. Speculation has increased this year that baseball will allow one or more teams to move next season.
The Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, all either struggling at the box office or unable to get a new ballpark built, are considered to be the top candidates for relocation.
Until one of those teams comes to town, however, the fans in the autograph line seemed content to make do with the team on hand — even if there wasnt a Ripken or Brady Anderson in sight.
The best-known Orioles stayed at home, making the most-asked question among fans, "Is that a player?"
Josh Towers, one of the Orioles brightest young pitching stars and — with a 5-1 record — their staff ace, walked around the square as unnoticed as any other skinny 24-year-old.
Still, the Orioles were satisfied.
"We were extremely pleased with the turnout," spokesman Bill Stetka said. "We had 18 players and coaches sign about 4,500 autographs."
There is undeniably a different atmosphere this year around the Orioles, a team consisting now of young, untested players rather than the overpaid, unhappy veterans who have marked recent seasons.
Pitching coach Mark Wiley, who also signed autographs, said he received nothing but positive feedback.
"Everyone seemed to be very upbeat and excited about the team," Wiley said. "They like what they see on the field."
Said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who signed autographs for 90 minutes in the sweltering heat: "There are a lot more people here this year than there were last year. I had a good time."

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