Counting down the five things I least like to see, I'd probably go Terrible Towels at Ravens Stadium at five, police lights in my rearview at four, three and two was a toss-up, but I'll give three to a Yankees fan getting a one-in-10,000 Crush Davis giveaway shirt at Camden Yards, and two to a turd in a punch bowl. Number one, of course, is reserved for a Red Sox fan anywhere, but for some reason, I don't mind the Nationals fans. They're polite; during the National Anthem they know when to yell "O," they can eat a steamed crab without help, and their accents aren't so bad, but most of all, I know they all kinda sorta still love the Orioles.
Last weeks bi-beltway series was a ludicrous amount of fun. The O's and Nats squared off for a pair of two-game sets, first in D.C., then here in fair Baltimore. Going anywhere in D.C. starts to feel like living proof of Zeno's paradox and getting to the game is no less of a nightmare, but if somehow you manage to make it, Nationals Park is a great place to take in a game. The locals are welcoming (I even heard one guy in Nationals red yelp out a "Crush" cheer for Chris Davis, before he caught himself), which is good, because they had a lot of welcoming to do. Both games in D.C. saw a heck of a lot of orange in the seats and on Monday, there was even a pretty solid "Let's Go O's!" chant. I don't want to call it Camden Yards South, because that would be rude, but it's a lot like brothers sharing a room-the big brother picks the posters.
Not as many Washingtonians made the trip north but those that did were welcome, though they didn't have a lot of reason to cheer. A lot of fans came in groups split between red and orange. One of the great things about having a press pass is you can hit the club level for some AC when the Yard gets too hot. Chilling (literally) by the Orioles' trophy case, I watched just as many Nats fans as O's fans pose for pics and wax euphorically about Eddie Murray's pair of home runs to bring home the '83 World Series.
On the field, it was a pleasure to watch two of the best young clubs in all of baseball going at it. Before the season, the Nationals were the hot pick to win the World Series, and while they haven't set the world on fire, they're still in contention for the NL East. The Orioles-every prognosticator's punching bag-on the flip side, were projected not only to finish behind the rest of the AL East but to somehow end the season looking up at the Toledo Mud Hens. Instead, the O's are locked in a four-way fight atop the East, just a Jim Johnson cold stretch out of first.
Both clubs also bring one of the brightest young stars in the game to the fight. The conventional wisdom has had Nats' center fielder Bryce Harper battling it out with the Angels' Mike Trout for the title of biggest future star, but Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is forcing himself into the conversation. The head-to-head was tough to judge, however. Manny hit a blazing .438 against Washington while adding three doubles to his league lead, driving in a tying run and scoring a go-ahead all while playing stellar third base. Harper was nursing a sore left knee and sat out all four games. And did I mention the Birds won three of those four?
Maybe those three wins make having the Washingtonians over a little easier too. These clubs have faced off 46 times so far (hard to believe, right?) with the O's taking 26. As far as rivalries go, it's not quite Yankees-Red Sox or Ravens-Steelers, but it's a good 'un, and it's got something those series will never have. I hate to admit this, but I dig the Nats. As an O's fan, it's nearly impossible not to root for Nationals skipper Davey Johnson; he won two World Series on the field with the Orioles and, before Buck, was the last manager to take the Birds to the playoffs. His club does it the old Orioles way with pitching and defense. The Orioles have the D, but as for the pitching, let's just say the bats are really good.
Flipping to the Nats game during O's commercials is one of the best things going this summer. Having them around has made baseball more like it was when I was a kid. The Orioles were always it, but there were other clubs that got a little room in my heart. Now the Nats have showed up and given me a reason to pay attention to the National League. (Plus, I love watching pitchers bat. It's like watching a dog lick peanut butter off a nine-volt battery.) I even want to see them win a World Series, just not before the Orioles get another for the case. Let the Nats win one next year, this year I'd be happy if they make it there and lose to the O's. After all, the occasional ass-kicking is a big brother's job.
Follow Jim at @jimmy2bad