- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

It’s exhibition baseball, so you won’t get a clear idea of how good or bad either the Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles will be this season when they take the field against each other for the first time in 2007 today at Space Coast Stadium.

But any time the Nationals face the Orioles — considered to be the chief nemesis among Washington baseball fans in the long battle to get major league baseball back in Washington — it means something, even if it is the ninth inning of a meaningless exhibition game with players who may never be seen in a regular season game.

So this may be a little hard for Nationals fans to stomach, but in reality, the Orioles will likely be better than the Nationals this year. They have better players. It is that simple.

That was the one thing that struck me after spending time in both camps. I looked around in Fort Lauderdale, after spending five days in Viera, and realized how many major league players were in the Orioles camp.

Jay Gibbons. Brian Roberts. Miguel Tejada. Melvin Mora. Ramon Hernandez. Aubrey Huff. Corey Patterson. Nick Markakis, Jay Payton. Kevin Millar. This is a major league lineup.

Now, the Nationals have players who played in the major leagues, but not necessarily major league players. Like Frank Robinson once said of Gary Carter, “He may in the Hall of Fame, but he’s not a Hall of Famer.”

The Nationals have a core group of legitimate major leaguers in Brian Schneider, Felipe Lopez, Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Robert Fick and perhaps Ronnie Belliard (we’ve seen no real evidence yet that Cristian Guzman is part of the group). Let’s face it, the jury is out on the rest of them.

Sometimes you have to believe what you see. And the more both teams are seen as spring training continues, fans will see how uncertain the 2007 Nationals roster is. Meanwhile, the Orioles appear to have perhaps the best team they have been for quite some time.

“This is talent wise, a better team than any we have before in the six years I’ve been here,” Gibbons said.

Well, take heart Nationals fans.

Where is all the talent is going to get the Orioles? Zipsville. Nadaland.

They may have better players, but they are still the Orioles, an organization run by the most dysfunctional owner Peter Angelos in the game.

The Nationals may suffer through a losing season, but it is an organization that is being run by co-owner and team president Stan Kasten with as impressive a track record for winning as there is in the game, and the Lerner family, whose business background is building things up, not tearing them down.

It’s sort of like the W.C. Fields joke, when someone said to him, “You’re drunk,” and he replied, “Yeah, well you’re ugly. And I’ll be sober tomorrow, and you’ll still be ugly.”

Next year and the year after that, the hangover of the 2007 season will have worn off for Nationals fans.

Next year, and the year after that as long as the Angelos family owns the team the Orioles will still be ugly.

It is a franchise run by spite and pettiness. The Orioles have had nine straight losing seasons, and watched their attendance drop from a high of 3.7 million in 1997 to 2.2 million last year. Yet the team is operated in a heavy-handed manner that is cutting off access and exposure, all based on the petty whims of the owner, through his refusal to open up to Internet exposure to their refusal to allow club management to take calls from listeners when on stations not owned by Orioles rights holder CBS radio.

That is the hammer ownership has used, waving the flag of the rights holders, including MASN, which raises some interesting scenarios.

To the Nationals’ credit, they have opened up access and coverage, particularly that of new media, with open arms, and have allowed some practices that the Orioles have refused to. If it is indeed a rights holder issues, will MASN (the Orioles) try to dictate media policy to the Nationals, in the name of protecting its rights?

I would love to hear that conversation.

Even though the Orioles may be better this year than we have seen in some time, the best it may get them is a .500 record, which still may only be good for fourth place in the American League East. They were once at the same level as the Yankees and Red Sox, in the early years of the Angelos regime. But they have been left in the dust by both AL East powerhouses. Supposedly, MASN will now give the Orioles the money they need to compete with those big boys.

But you know what? They’ll still be ugly.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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