Unquestionably one of the best parts of being a huge baseball fan is experiencing the emotion of a true rivalry with another club. Being the new team on the block in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals don’t have such a rival — not yet anyway. But if Nats fans are looking to generate a rivalry somewhere, my suggestion is to look south.
Despite the attempts of MLB to foist the Orioles upon us as natural rivals, that isn’t going to fly. And while the Phillies and Nationals have had fun amping up the electricity for their match-ups this season, my feeling is that this one will be short-lived as the teams go in opposite directions. Seems like the best bet for a true long-term rivalry is the club that just got done handing Washington its lunch, again, the
Florida Miami Marlins.
The thought process is this: these two organizations are in very similar situations, building around good young players while trying to climb up the ladder in a tough division and knock off the kings, the Phillies. It isn’t hard to envision the Nats and the Fish battling for the next five or six years to establish themselves as the next NL East dynasty. It would be like Yankees-Red Sox lite, and we all know how that gets eaten up, even through the off-season as the two teams jockey for some of the same free agents in an attempt to get the upper hand on one another.
The Marlins have their own Bryce Harper in Giancarlo Stanton, and he’s already in full beast mode as we unfortunately saw over and over again in the past series. While they may not have a Stephen Strasburg, they do have Anibal Sanchez, good enough to never have tasted defeat against Washington in almost 120 innings. There’s obviously plenty of talent in South Florida, as shown by the Nationals’ anemic record against the Fish since moving to Washington. A 49-80 mark overall is frustrating enough, with the last four seasons seeing double-digit loss totals against the men in black. That alone should make it easy for Nationals fans to get riled up about facing Miami.
Granted, there hasn’t been the spice about Nationals-Marlins that you may have seen when the Phillies came to town, but I think that is simply a byproduct of the two markets. Neither team has been in contention for anything lately, and even when the team is halfway exciting, the fan bases haven’t been energized enough to come out to the ballpark en masse, especially in Florida. Of course, with a shiny new ballpark that should change for the Marlins, and the Nationals are seeing their own attendance uptick with the team’s good start and bright young stars. Eventually this will get picked up on by the national media as well, and Nats-Marlins could become a Sunday night staple in the near future.
If that isn’t enough, there is always Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. For those new to the party, who may have only started following the team when it moved to Washington, Loria absolutely would make a great Darth Vader-type villain in this rivalry. You see, Loria used to own the Montréal Expos, and many old-time Expos fans credit he and the complicit Bud Selig as being the final nail in the coffin for baseball in Montréal. Whether it was demanding a new publicly-financed stadium (sound familiar, Miami?), ending English-language broadcasts or firing Felipe Alou, Loria did enough in that short time to merit consideration for “Worst Owner Ever.”
Then, thanks to a shady backroom deal with Selig and then-Marlins owner John Henry, Loria was able to trade up to get ownership of the Marlins, while Henry took over the Red Sox and MLB took custodianship of the Expos. Loria then stripped his former club of everything including the manager and coaches, the team computers, scouting reports, training staff, office equipment and even swapped out the Marlins spring training home in far-flung Viera for the Expos new one in Jupiter. We all saw how it ended in Montréal, with home games in Puerto Rico, the contraction threat and no September call-ups due to financial considerations. Feel free to blame Loria for all of this, for the fact that your team was completely wiped out when it arrived in Washington.
It’s actually real easy to do. Get up your gander when you see those orange uniforms. Spew family-friendly vitriol when the Nationals pitch to Stanton. Tell yourself there would be nothing sweeter than to someday see the Nats clinch a division title with the Marlins in the other dugout, watching forlornly. Here’s your rival, people. Get used to it.