- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Washington! Northern Virginia! Neither!

The debate rages on: where to put a major league baseball team in the D.C. area, if at all.

The District says a new ballpark’s got to be in town, taking its lead from the dozens of cities that built stadiums in urban locales over the last decade.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos screams bloody murder, insisting a stadium 35 miles from Camden Yards would ruin his franchise (as if a string of six losing seasons hasn’t set the wheels in motion already).

So the folks at Virginia Baseball unveil plans to build a massive stadium/entertainment complex near Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County, more than 60 miles away from downtown Baltimore (not to mention anything remotely resembling civilization).

It’s a fruitless debate, really, especially when every ounce of public posturing is coming either from power-hungry politicians or millionaire businessmen. Lost in the fold are Joe and Jane Sixpack, who just want one simple question answered:

Where, from the average fan’s perspective, is the best place to put a ballpark?

It was with Joe and Jane in mind that we set out to answer that basic quandary, to eschew political motivations and conduct a study (albeit highly unscientific) of ballpark feasibility in the Greater Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.

Either that or we just felt like subjecting ourselves to three straight days of rush-hour traffic.

The premise was simple: Pick a central location as a starting point, hit the road at 5 p.m. each day and see how long it takes to get to three different ballpark sites (Camden Yards, Loudoun County and RFK Stadium).

The agreed-upon starting gate proved to be Bethesda, more specifically the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road. This is the true battleground of the D.C./Virginia/Baltimore baseball fight, within reasonable driving distance of all three locations and home to more than a quarter-million residents of one of the nation’s wealthiest counties.

So armed with a tank full of gas, a 1999 Rand McNally road atlas and the old-fashioned link to the information superhighway that is AM radio, we set off on a recent Tuesday afternoon in search of some answers.

The results may surprise you …

Day one: Bethesda to Camden Yards

5:00 — Begin north on Wisconsin Avenue.

5:01 — Slam on brakes. This same action will be repeated 87 times before the day’s over.

5:02 — Traffic comes to a screeching halt as a paramedic truck whizzes by. Note to self: Get a removable car roof siren the next time we want to breeze through a gridlocked intersection.

5:05 — Merge onto the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway. Remark that we were under the impression this road was considered a highway, which can’t possibly be accurate given the 15 mph pace at which traffic is flowing.

5:08 — The traffic guy on WTOP rattles off a half-dozen or so trouble spots around the area. No mention of our present location, again, despite the 15 mph pace. Begin to wonder whether this guy actually receives legitimate traffic info or just makes it up as he goes along.

5:14 — Tune into the all-sports station just in time to hear some guy yammering about the proposed ballpark site in Virginia and how there isn’t a Metro stop within 20 miles of it. Start questioning why we thought this experiment was a good idea.

5:20 — After a brief increase in traffic flow, drivers again slam on their brakes as they approach an overhead sign warning of delays on I-95 South at Exit 23. “Stay Alert,” we are told. Once past the sign, traffic resumes its normal pace, most of the drivers realizing the problem area is still a good eight miles away and that there was no reason to slam on the brakes in the first place.

5:21 — Note to self: People are stupid.

5:23 — Eighteen minutes after getting on the Beltway, fall into stunned silence as we exit onto I-95 North. Remark that we’ve never made it through that notoriously brutal stretch in such short order. (On the drive home an hour later, traffic in this same location is backed up for miles. Guess we left too soon.)

5:29 — Cruising along now at 75, er 65 mph (just in case any Maryland State Troopers are reading this) in light traffic, a sign on the side of the road notes only 23 more miles to Baltimore.

5:37 — Remark that the last time we trekked up to Charm City, it took more than two hours. Begin to wonder what in the world we did to be rewarded with such good fortune.

5:50 — First glimpse of the Baltimore skyline off in the distance. Realizing we’re going to make it in less than an hour, remind ourselves we did not in fact sell our souls to any pitchfork-wielding, goat-legged creatures in exchange for this quick trip.

5:53 — Pull into parking space next to the B&O; Warehouse at Camden Yards. Having completed the trip in 53 minutes flat, hop out of car looking for someone to high-five, only to remember the Orioles are on the road and the parking lot is empty. Duck back into car before anyone sees what yutzes we are.

End of trip one

Total time: 53 minutes.

Total distance: 37 miles.

Day two: Bethesda to Loudoun County

5:00 — Begin north on Wisconsin Avenue.

5:03 — This road looks eerily familiar. Oh wait, we were just here yesterday. Whose idea was this again?

5:06 — Merge onto the Outer Loop of the Beltway with minimal traffic headed in this direction. Remark out loud, “Wow, this doesn’t look too bad.”

5:07 — Slam on the brakes as traffic comes to a standstill. Remark out loud never to remark anything out loud again.

5:13 — Realizing the right-hand lane is moving decidedly slower than the others, attempt a quick dash into the next lane over, only to swerve right back where we were when a 5-ton semi-truck pulls the same move from the left.

5:14 — Note to self: Don’t attempt to take on a 5-ton semi-truck while behind the wheel of a 2000 Saturn SL2. (Though if we did, those dent-resistant side panels would come in quite handy.)

5:18 — Our trusty traffic man on WTOP informs us the Outer Loop is “jammed from the 270 interchange all the way to the Dulles Toll Road.” Looking out the window at the sea of brake lights surrounding us, the only response we can come up with is “Duh.”

5:29 — Cross the American Legion Bridge into Virginia at a steady 15 mph.

5:29:05 — Make that 10 mph.

5:29:10 — Make that 5 mph.

5:36 — Note sign on side of road stating radar detectors are illegal in Virginia. Again, given the current pace of traffic, question why anyone in their right mind would need a radar detector in this state.

5:38 — A BMW M3 convertible pulls in front of us. Wonder whether this traffic jam would be more tolerable behind the wheel of such a fine vehicle.

5:39 — No, probably not.

5:41 — At long last, exit the Beltway onto the Dulles Toll Road, though not before slamming on the brakes yet again as some yahoo tries to exit from three lanes away. (Note to self: People are really stupid.) Check watch and note it took 35 minutes to travel nine miles on the Beltway, an average speed of 15.43 mph.

5:44 — Get in line behind nine other automobiles at the toll booth, while five lanes over the cars are zooming through the electronically monitored booths.

5:45 — Note to self: Get a Smart Tag.

5:46 — Pay the 50-cent toll.

5:51 — Pass Wiehle Avenue in Reston, where a new Metro line is expected to open … in 2011. You still have six miles to go before you reach the ballpark site. Remark that Trey Griffey will hit his 500th career home run before the Metro goes all the way to this stadium.

5:58 — Exit the toll road at Route 28. Note that the cost of exiting the highway here is 35 cents. Note that every car in front of you is paying the toll with dollar bills and receiving change. Note that perhaps it would be wise to charge tolls that can be paid without having to scour a glove compartment for dimes.

5:59 — Pay the toll — what are we supposed to do with 65 cents change? — and slam on the brakes as a couple dozen cars attempt to merge from three lanes into one.

6:01 — As we surpass the one-hour mark on this insane trek, still trying to cram our way into the bottlenecking lane merge, scream out loud: “Who are all these people, and where are they going?! There’s nothing out here to go to!”

6:03 — Note sign on the side of road that reads: “Rock Quarry. Caution: Blasting.” Remark that a rock quarry makes a far more aesthetically pleasing backdrop for a ballpark than, say, the U.S. Capitol dome.

6:05 — Pull off on side of road where we think the ballpark site is. Note that it’s a large, mostly forested patch of land that will need to be razed to build the proposed megaplex. Note to avoid any environmental rallies in the area on the day they break ground at the ballpark.

End of trip two

Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Total distance: 25 miles.

Day three: Bethesda to RFK Stadium

5:00 — Walk two blocks and enter the Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue.

5:02 — Pay for Metro Card.

5:02:30 — Walk through turnstile and wait on platform for Red Line train to arrive.

5:03 — Train arrives. Hop on-board.

5:04 — With plenty of seats available, even at this, the height of rush hour, we find an empty row to stretch our weary legs out.

5:06 — Take our pick of a) browsing through this morning’s sports section, b) closing our eyes for a quick catnap or c) staring at the various people getting on and off the subway. Note to self: We can’t do any of the above while motoring along the Beltway at 15 mph.

5:22 — Hop off the train at Metro Center and head down the stairs to connect to the Orange or Blue lines.

5:23 — The Orange line to New Carrollton already is waiting.

5:24 — Note to self: This is the greatest mass transit system in the world.

5:25 — The Orange line is a little more crowded than the Red line, so we’re forced to stand for the next 11 minutes.

5:26 — Remark that this is still better than driving on the Beltway and question why anyone would ever subject themselves to that daily torture.

5:27 — Note to self: People are really, really stupid.

5:35 — Hop off the Orange line at the Stadium/Armory stop.

5:36 — Head up the stairs and get our first glimpse of historic RFK Stadium in all her glory. Remark that there are plenty of people out there who believe it’s a bad idea to build a ballpark in the District.

5:37 — Note to self: People are really, really, really stupid.

End of trip three

Total time: 36 minutes.

Total distance: 10 miles.

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