- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2005

BALTIMORE — The Washington Nationals finished their first homestand of the season yesterday afternoon, and Camden Yards was still standing last night.

The ballpark had not become a tomb. There were no cobwebs on the seats, nor were foreclosure notices posted on the doors of the B&O; Warehouse.

The Baltimore Orioles survived the shock of baseball’s arrival in Washington just fine, thank you. If anything, the raw numbers indicate that the Orioles are doing better now than at this time last season — and better than the new kids on the block, the Nationals.

The Orioles drew a total of 342,830 fans to Camden Yards for the 10 home dates after last night’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox, an average of 34,283. At the same time last season, the Orioles were drawing an average of 28,298.

The Nationals attracted 224,097 spectators to the seven-game homestand that ended with yesterday afternoon’s game at RFK Stadium against the Atlanta Braves, an average of 32,014.

The Orioles, who have had seven straight losing seasons, last year saw a 300,000 increase in attendance to 2.7million. That rise followed six straight seasons of decline from a high of 3.7 million in 1997 to a low of 2.4million in 2003.

The improvement this season extends to fans who don’t make it to Camden Yards: The television ratings for the Orioles on Comcast SportsNet are better now than at this time last season in both Baltimore and Washington.

However, Comcast spokesman Chris Helein said the network could not supply specifics ratings numbers. “The numbers are actually slightly up,” he said.

The consensus among Orioles fans interviewed at Camden Yards yesterday was that their club will survive the competition from the Nationals.

“I don’t think it will have much of an impact,” said Jerry Guercio Jr., an Orioles fan from Kingsville, Md., north of Baltimore. “There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, and I think Orioles fans will stay loyal.”

Mark Lotts is a testament to that loyalty. He is from Greenville, Va. — three hours south of Camden Yards and seemingly the sort of fan who would jump at a chance to become the fan of the new team in closer-to-home Washington.

Yet Lotts said he has no plans to attend Nationals games and intends on remaining an Orioles fan. “I think [the Orioles] will be OK,” said Lotts, who was wearing a Sammy Sosa Orioles jersey. “There is a buzz around the team again now with Sammy Sosa here.”

Orioles administration remains reluctant to discuss the impact of the Nationals on their club. Orioles owner Peter Angelos opposed the relocation of a franchise to Washington because he feared the presence of a team in the District would harm his club financially.

“I think it is premature to figure out the impact for either team yet,” said Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka three days after the club drew the smallest crowd in the 13-year history of Camden Yards. Only 16,301 came out for the Monday night game against the Detroit Tigers, which followed a three-game sweep by the Orioles of the Yankees at home.

It is difficult to get a true assessment yet of the impact the two major league baseball teams in the Baltimore-Washington region will have on each other. There are a number of mitigating factors, the most important being that the teams each played at home six times while the Nationals were in town.

That won’t happen often when scheduling is done in the future.

In other areas with two major league teams in close proximity to each other — New York’s Mets and Yankees, for example — baseball’s schedule makers usually put one club on the road when the other is at home. Such teams rarely play at home at the same time.

Because the Nationals are playing a slightly amended Montreal Expos schedule, they have a total of 25 conflicting home dates with the Orioles. That is an aberration that won’t be repeated past this year.

As far as television numbers, the Orioles have not had to compete with the Nationals on cable because the Nationals are not on cable television yet. The Nationals’ limited appearances have so far been confined to WDCA Channel 20. That channel is not carried by the cable systems in Howard and Anne Arundel counties — the battleline counties for marketeers between Baltimore and Washington.

The Orioles also have a benefited from having five home dates against the clubs that draw their biggest crowds: the Yankees and the Red Sox. Last night, Camden Yards was a sea of Red Sox red. Last year at this time they were hosting the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who draw only 12,000 fans a game at their own ballpark.

The numbers, though, at least, have given some businesses around Camden Yards a sense of security despite the Nationals’ arrival.

“Business is about the same as it has always been,” said Randy Poist, a bartender at Pickles Pub across the street from Camden Yards. “We got some help because the Yankees and the Red Sox were in town, but I think we’ll be fine.”

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