Orioles vs. Nationals … at the gate

Because Orioles owner Peter Angelos and his staff continue to whine (and whine some more, and then piss off some people) about losing fans to the new Washington franchise, I’ve decided to take him to task. Throughout this season, I’m going to monitor the attendance of the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles. Neither team is expected to anything higher than third or fourth, at best, in their respective divisions and both have aspects intriguing enough to draw the fans to the ballparks. The Nationals are new, the first team in the nation’s capital in a generation. The Orioles have star power in Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro (the first pair of 500-home-run hitters to ever play in the same lineup), Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez.

So what if Washington is 35 miles from Baltimore? A city Washington’s size should have a right to a major league franchise. Granted, the histories are longer, but there have been no problems in New York, Chicago, the Bay Area or L.A. (The Dodgers haven’t had a problem with the Angels until they took their city’s name. They didn’t even move anywhere!) While those four cities and metropolitan areas are large enough to support two franchises, there is nothing that says Angelos has the right to two cities’ worth of support for one team. If anything, Baltimore-Washington should be looked at as Oakland-San Francisco.

So while there are already debates about which team to see, it remains to be seen if the Nationals severely hurt the Orioles’ attendance figures this season.

So here’s what we’ll be looking at this season:

• Out of 81 home games for each team, 25 fall on the same day. That’s 31 percent, or just about one-third of the home season.

• For the Orioles, four of those 25 overlapping dates are against the Yankees at Camden, always a big draw. They shouldn’t have anything to worry about, since the ballpark will be half-full with Yankee fans anyway.

• For the Nationals, seven games involve Mets at RFK, which should be a draw. Mets fans in upstate New York (and some from downstate, too, I’m sure) often made a trip to Montreal each season, so it’s no stretch to think that there will be some Mets fans heading south to D.C. for a weekend series. I’ll be one of them, in fact.

• The days of the Mets games are: an April Friday-Sunday (when Tampa Bay is at Baltimore), a July Monday-Thursday (with the Red Sox at Camden on the Thursday) and a September Friday-Sunday (also with the BoSox at Baltimore). Days of the week and months of the season are important for the same reason Bud Selig always trumpets the rise in attendance for interleague games each year: they start in mid-June, right when kids are getting out of school and the weather’s pretty much perfect in every city. If there is to be a decline in Orioles attendance vs. that of the Nationals, it’s more likely to come in April, when D.C. has the added novelty of being new and it’s just too dang cold and rainy to sit through a four-hour American League game in Baltimore.

• Back at Camden, six other games involve the defending champion Boston Red Sox, three are against the Western Division champion Angels and three more involve the A’s, always an exciting, young, competitive team. So, counting the four Yankee games, that’s 16 of 25 games against top competition.

• In D.C., five games feature the retooled and competitive Florida Marlins, three are against defending National League champ St. Louis and two involve 13-time NL East winners Atlanta. Including the Mets, that’s 17 of 25 against the three best NL East teams and the defending league champion.

• The Orioles will play six of the games against the potentially underwhelming Tigers, Devil Rays and Indians at Camden (though the Indians could be a surprising team this year).

• The Nationals’ eight remaining games involve the potentially underwhelming Diamondbacks, Pirates and Reds, though Cincinnati carries the same disclaimer as the Indians, only without as much of a chance of competing for the division because theirs is much, much tougher.

• In 2004, the Orioles filled Camden’s 48,190 seats to 70.3 percent capacity in 80 home games. The team’s average attendance had declined every year from 1997 (average of 45,816 per game) to 2003 (30,303) before jumping back up in 2004 (34,300). The magic number is 2.45 million for the season: In 13 years at Camden Yards, the Orioles have never been below that number.

• RFK holds some 45,000 for baseball (to Angelos’ dismay).

Now here are the matchups for those common home dates for the Nationals and Orioles. Washington’s opponent is listed first, followed by Baltimore’s foe. The number in parentheses after each visiting team is that franchise’s MLB rank in 2004 in average road attendance. The number at the end of each pairing is the Orioles’ 2004 average against that opponent.

Sat. April 16 — Diamondbacks (11)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Sun. April 17 — Diamondbacks (11)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Mon. April 18 — Marlins (20)/Tigers (25); 32,207
Tue. April 19 — Marlins (20)/Tigers (25); 32,207
Wed. April 20 — Braves (16)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Thu. April 21 — Braves (16)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Fri. April 29 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Sat. April 30 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Sun. May 1 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Tue. June 28 — Pirates (15)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Wed. June 29 — Pirates (15)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Thu. June 30 — Pirates (15)/Indians (26); 33,596
Thu. July 7 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Tue. Aug. 23 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Wed. Aug. 24 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Thu. Aug. 25 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Fri. Aug. 26 — Cardinals (13)/A’s (8); 37,937
Sat. Aug. 27 — Cardinals (13)/A’s (8); 37,937
Sun. Aug. 28 — Cardinals (13)/A’s (8); 37,937
Mon. Sep. 5 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Tue. Sep. 6 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Wed. Sep. 7 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Fri. Sep. 23 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Sat. Sep. 24 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Sun. Sep. 25 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748

Two NL teams played in Baltimore last season. The Diamondbacks drew 26,603 fans per game for a Tuesday-Thursday (June 8-10) series in June. Atlanta was in for a Friday-Sunday series later that month (25-27), drawing 40,037.

Additionally, Washington gets home games against Orioles opponents Oakland (Tuesday, June 7-Thursday, June 9), Seattle (Friday, June 10-Sunday, June 12) and Toronto (Friday, June 24-Sunday, June 26).

We’ll also be able to compare how each team did when it came to Baltimore in 2004, with the months and days of the week of those visits again important:

• The Red Sox (40,748 average at Baltimore in ’04) were at Camden for an April Sunday (which was Opening Day) and the following Tuesday-Thursday, a July Monday and Wednesday (rainout) and an October Friday-Sunday, with a seperate-admission doubleheader on Saturday

• The Yankees (45,580) visited for a May Tuesday-Thursday, a June Tuesday-Thursday and a September Friday-Sunday.

• The Tigers were in town for a Friday-Sunday series in September.

• Tampa Bay showed up in April (Tuesday-Thursday), June (Friday and Sunday) and July (two separate games on Monday, one each Tuesday and Wednesday).

• The Indians came in May for a Friday-Sunday series.

• The Angels were also in Baltimore for a May Friday-Sunday series.

• Oakland showed up in August for a Monday-Wednesday matchup.

• The Blue Jays faced off at Camden in April (Friday-Sunday), August (Friday-Sunday) and September (Monday-Thursday, with a traditional doubleheader on Wednesday).

So there’s the setup. I plan to monitor the teams’ overall attendance figures, posting them either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on how diligent I am with scrutinizing the box scores and whatnot. But for those 25 home dates the two teams have in common, I intend to post the comparison by the next afternoon.

And then, come October, we’ll see whether Angelos was truly worried, or whole-heartedly trying to get every possible dollar from MLB that he could.

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