As Opening Day Approaches, D.C. Sports Sections Have a New Home Team

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By: Graham Webster

This spring, Washington, D.C., newspaper editors might have to worry about a whole other kind of bias. As Major League Baseball returns to the capital Monday after three decades, the new issue is: Orioles or Nationals?

The district’s two newspapers face the question of how to balance coverage of the new hometown team, the Washington Nationals, with coverage of the longtime quasi-home team, the Baltimore Orioles.

At The Washington Times, it’s a no-brainer to give the Nationals more play than Orioles.

“This is now a National League town, so the Nationals are the number one thing we’re concentrating on,” Assistant Sports Editor Scott Haring told E&P.

The Times, which will publish a two-part baseball special section Thursday, will devote the first half to the Nats and cover the rest of the major leagues, including the Orioles, in the second half. In recent years, in fact, the Times had already cut back on Orioles coverage, said the paper’s Nationals reporter, Mark Zuckerman, who covered the Orioles in 2002. Beginning with last season, the Times has not had an Orioles beat reporter.

The Washington Post is also going all-out on the Nats, although vigilant Baltimore fans have kept the paper from cutting Orioles coverage too much.

“Some people seem to be obsessed with that question,” said Barry Svrluga, the Post’s Nationals beat writer. “In some ways I think it’s bumped the Orioles coverage up.”

Two sportswriter positions at the Post that had been left unfilled due to a hiring freeze were “unfrozen” to accommodate the additional reporting demands of a new team, Garcia-Ruiz said.

The Post’s special baseball section, which ran Wednesday, even featured a story examining the “brewing” Nats-Orioles rivalry.

Split allegiances aside, the excitement is building in Washington for a new home team, even one imported from Montreal, where the Nats had been the Expos.

“There are people who have been waiting 30 years for this to happen,” said Post sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz.

To mark the occasion, Garcia-Ruiz said his paper is adding untraditional coverage through the Web site, including “Nationals Journal,” a daily blog from spring training written by Svrluga, and a series of live online chats between fans and Post baseball writers.

Both Svrluga and Zuckerman said covering the Nats has so far been a pleasure.

“I haven’t found a jerk in there yet, I’m sure in part because they were so stuck away in Montreal,” Svrluga said. “They’re almost like they’re back in high school and excited about the media coverage.”

Zuckerman said the whole Nats organization, from players to management, has been accommodating with the press at spring training in Florida, where there are fewer reporters than during the season.

“I don’t think they know what’s awaiting them in D.C.,” he said.

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