After the departure of the Washington Senators baseball team in 1971, many fans in the Silver Spring area started rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, sometimes grudgingly.
While many switched allegiance to the Washington Nationals when Major League Baseball returned to the area in 2005, a good number of Orioles fans still can be seen in Silver Spring bars and restaurants. The interest heightened in recent weeks as the Nationals and Orioles built solid leads in their respective divisions and both appear likely to make the playoffs, as they did in 2012.
“We get good crowds for both Nationals and Orioles games. We show them both on our TV screens,” said Greg Whelan, co-owner of McGinty’s Public House and Restaurant in downtown Silver Spring. “We expect it to heat up as the season draws to a close [in late September].”
Occasionally, he sees fans cheering for both the Nats and O’s, but not too often. “Most fans choose one team or the other,” Whelan said. “They don’t split their allegiance.”
Denizens Brewing Co., which opened in downtown Silver Spring this summer, sees fans of both teams, as well. “We play whatever is on, both Nats’ games and Orioles’ games,” said Taylor Barnes, marketing director for the brewery.
Takoma Park is more Nats’ country, Takoma Park resident Dave Zirin, author and sports editor of The Nation, said in an email. “There are far more Washington, D.C., transplants, people who work in the District and identify more with the team,” he said.
While some dream of a Nats-O’s World Series, Zirin said he doesn’t hear a lot of that talk. “So many of the Nats’ wins are by the skin of their teeth,” he said.
During a 10-game winning streak that ended Friday, seven victories were by one run and five were “walk-offs,” coming during the final at-bat.
“After the gut-punch playoffs of 2012” — when the Nats blew a 6-0 lead in the deciding game of the divisional series — “people are taking it one step at a time,” Zirin said.
Zirin, who also writes a sports blog called “Edge of Sports,” will speak about his newest book, “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy,” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Takoma Park Library.
A New York Times study on where baseball fans live nationwide — using fans’ preferences made public on Facebook — in April confirms Zirin’s notion of Takoma Park being more in the Nationals’ pocket. But it’s not by as much as one might think, if such social media stats are in the ballpark, so to speak.
In Takoma’s 20912 ZIP code, 25 percent of Facebook users living there aligned themselves with the Nats, 22 percent with the O’s and 19 percent with the New York Yankees. Downtown Silver Spring’s 20910 ZIP code was more pro-Nats — 29 percent to 18 percent each for the O’s and Yankees.
Northern Silver Spring areas, including White Oak and Colesville, are just about split between the Nats and O’s. Burtonsville is decidedly Orioles’ country, with 36 percent of users aligning with the Baltimore team and 21 percent with the Nats.
As expected, all of Washington, D.C.’s ZIP codes are substantially aligned with the Nats. The city of Baltimore’s zip codes are even more attached to the O’s.
“If there is a beltway showdown, you can bet I will be rooting for ‘Dem O’s’,” said Sherri Harrington, a Baltimore resident and native.
Jeni Stepanek, executive director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation in Rockville, grew up in Prince George’s County and remembers how people cheered for the Senators in the 1960s. Her son, Mattie, gained international acclaim as a poet and peace advocate before he died just before his 14th birthday in 2004 from a rare form of muscular dystrophy.
Mattie and his three siblings, who also died from the disease, are buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring.
“After [the Senators] left town, loyalties generally transitioned to the Orioles,” Stepanek said. “Now that Washington has a team again, I do cheer for the Nats, but not if they are playing against the O’s.”
The first baseball game she attended was with Mattie as a baby, the final Orioles contest at the old Memorial Stadium in 1991. Year later, the Orioles invited Mattie and her to games as goodwill ambassadors for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Finances were pretty tight for us during much of Mattie’s life, so we greatly appreciated the generosity of both the Orioles team and managers, and MDA supporters and sponsors,” Stepanek said. “Mattie and I even got to enjoy two games watching from a suite, which was an amazing experience.”
The second O’s game Mattie attended, he said he felt “a sense of belonging, like this really is ‘our team,’ and I am a part of this great sport,” she recalled. During another game, employees chose him as one of 10 kids to throw a ball to an O’s player in a pregame ceremony. Mattie was matched with former O’s All-Star pitcher Mike Mussina, one of his two favorite players, along with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.
During the ceremony, Mattie handed Mussina a poem he had written and signed, and asked the player to sign a jersey he gave to Mattie. A stadium employee said there wasn’t time for that, but Mussina asked for Mattie’s address and said he would sign and send his game-worn jersey to Mattie.
“Mattie hugged him and hugged him,” Stepanek said. “I still have the signed shirt, now framed and with Mattie’s prized possessions.”
The Nationals also support MDA and later were a sponsor of an event Mattie created called the Heartsongs Gala, she said.
“I know Mattie would have loved that and would have loved cheering for the Nats, as well,” Stepanek said. “Though I believe at heart we will both always be Orioles fans.”