- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

By the way, have you noticed that the Baltimore Orioles begin their season in just four days?
If you haven't, not to worry. It's nothing to get excited about.
Once upon a time, the start of baseball's six-month season was a big deal for many of us. It heralded springtime, flowers and the time-honored rituals of catching games on radio or TV, perusing box scores and occasionally watching combat in person at your venue of choice. Now it's more like, who cares?
We can forget the Orioles' gaudy spring record it means even less than the quadrennial results of the New Hampshire primary. When the O's dash onto the Camden Yards greensward next Monday at 3:05, the frightening New York Yankees will be waiting and so will those of us from Washington who long for our own team to love.
When Scott Erickson flings his first pitch for the O's, it will mark the start of the 31st season without a team in the most important city in the free world. It also could be the last, because I'd say the chances are 50-50 that the Montreal Expos will become the Washington/Northern Virginia Whatevers before next April.
But who knows, who really knows except perhaps Bud Selig and relying on his goodwill toward Washington is the riskiest sort of gamble. So we wait and hope and maybe pray a little that we'll see the so-called national pastime return to the nation's capital before all of us go to that great ballpark in the sky (where, presumably, we won't have to pay to park).
But first things first. Opening Day in Charm City ain't nothin' compared to Opening Day in Washington, where presidents from William Howard Taft through Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch with varying degrees of accuracy and success. Our Chief Executives really had no choice. Except in times of national emergency, passing up this rite of spring impressed a lot of voters as positively un-American.
In 1953, his first year in office, Dwight Eisenhower skipped the opener because of a golf date. From the resulting furor, you would have thought Ike had been caught in a compromising position with a White House intern (that sort of thing didn't happen, as far as we know, for another 40 years). Luckily, the famous Eisenhower luck held; the opener was rained out, and Ike made the rescheduled date.
As a former owner of the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush would be the perfect president to do the honors at RFK next spring. But for at least one more season, fans hereabouts without an attachment to a team elsewhere will have to make do with the Orioles or watch dirt bike races and soccer on ESPN.
Many of us adopted the O's, albeit reluctantly, at some point after the expansion Senators skedaddled off to Texas in 1972, but it's getting harder and harder to retain our interest. The reasons can be stated in one succinct sentence: Cal Ripken is gone, and Peter Angelos isn't.
As long as Cal Jr. tugged on No. 8, it was possible to recognize a link, no matter how tenuous, between the Orioles' great teams of the '60s, '70s and '80s and recent impostors. After all, he learned to play baseball, from his dad and others, the Oriole Way which meant the correct, unselfish way just as Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and hundreds of others had before him. But now that Cal finally has retired, who is our primary role model? Jeff Conine, perhaps? Forget it. Nice guy, good ballplayer, but not a honest-to-goodness homebred Oriole.
And most of his teammates wouldn't even be household names in their own households. I mean, Chris Singleton, Marty Cordova, Melvin Mora, Brook Fordyce, Jorge Julio give me a break.
Through his own dictatorial and arrogant ways, Angelos has succeeded, in less than a decade, at turning one of baseball's proudest franchises into a laughingstock and a halfway house for "prospects" and his own Over the Hill Gang. I feel sorry for Syd Thrift and Mike Hargrove, good baseball men who must preside over the franchise's further disintegration.
As if that weren't enough reason to loathe Angelos, he has been crying crocodile tears most recently in Washington's inexplicably sympathetic other newspaper about how a team in Washington or Northern Virginia would grievously wound the Orioles' attendance and future. This from a man whose fourth-place teams have drawn more than 3 million at home in each of the last four seasons.
Now that string of fourth-place finishes in the American League East figures to end. I see the 2002 Orioles coming home fifth and last let's hear it for those improving Tampa Bay Devil Rays while losing 100 or more games for the first time since 1988 and only the second in the franchise's 49-year history.
And you know what, Peter baby? It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

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