Matt Wieters crosses enemy lines for this year’s Battle of the Beltway



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The didn’t steal from the . Wieters didn’t turn down a big-money offer from the O’s to take an even bigger-money offer from the Nats. Still, that the four-time All-Star swapped unis makes the Battle of the Beltway even more interesting than it already was.

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Like most interleague rivalries, O’s-Nats is more about geography than anything else. The two teams, whose stadiums are separated by 38 miles, don’t play in the same division. They don’t play in the same league. Although they do battle every year, a handful of friendlies does not an intense rivalry make. Not on the field anyway. As for the front office, well, that’s another story.

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The Orioles are majority owners of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which broadcasts both O’s and Nats games and appears to do quite well for itself, thank you very much. The Nationals have a minority stake in MASN. As part of that agreement, MASN pays each club annual TV rights fees. Currently, the two teams are bickering — intensely and litigiously — about the fair market value of said fees. The Nats claim that MASN (which, again, is majority-controlled by the Orioles) has shorted them tens of millions of dollars, thereby meddling with their ability to assemble a winning baseball team. The O’s, naturally, take issue with that claim.

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Chris Iannetta Jersey #33 Donning the mask for the Nationals makes former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters Jersey the biggest name to play for both halves of baseball’s Beltway rivalry. Eric Hartline/USA Today SportsAs a result of all this Hatfield-McCoy nonsense, the two teams never do business together. Like, ever. In fact, as Barry Svrluga mentions in this Washington Post piece, since the Nats descended on the District in 2005, they’ve made at least one trade with every single franchise in baseball — except their beltway buddies. Over that same time period, the Orioles have struck a deal with every MLB club except for one (hint: rhymes with Schmationals). Despite the front-office fracas, and despite a relatively one-sided case of fan-imosity (O’s faithful have always seemed to take the rivalry more seriously than their Nats counterparts), the on-field interaction has remained largely civil.

“It’s more like cousins,” said Baltimore catcher , whose team spent the better part of last week getting bullied by big brother Boston in Beantown. “You can have some nice little games with your cousin. They can get spirited, but at the end of the day, I think we really respect each other a lot.”

Maybe that’s because the Orioles and Nationals see so much of themselves in each other. For starters, there’s the whole neighbor thing. Besides that, both teams have managed to claw their way out of extended spells of irrelevance to make the playoffs in three of the past five years. Each time the O’s have reached the postseason (2012, 2014 and 2016), so too have the Nats. Each time the O’s have failed to make the World Series, so too have the Nats.

But wait, there’s more: Both teams have aging skippers who have won three Manager of the Year awards but have never tasted a championship. Both teams feature offenses that are dependent on the long ball. Both teams boast bullpens that were nails last year but have recently come unglued. That’s not to say there aren’t differences between the two clubs (see: rotation, starting), but if you look long and hard enough, the O’s and Nats are practically twins. They even share the same catcher. Well, kind of.

In February, longtime Oriole Wieters signed a shockingly team-friendly one-year, $10.5 million contract with Washington (with a player option for 2018). On Monday night, in Game 1 of the MASN Cup, he returns to Camden Yards for the first time as an opposing player, by far the biggest name ever to wear both uniforms (eclipsing … Nate McLouth?).

“I’m excited to get back and play in a place that was so comfortable and familiar to me,” said Wieters, a four-time All-Star who was drafted by the Orioles in 2007 and spent his first eight big league seasons in Baltimore before migrating down the B-W Parkway. “I always wanted to play one place my whole career and win a World Series there, but I just kind of got that feeling last year at the end of year, that it may be time to amicably go different ways.”

So far, the split has worked out well for both sides. In 24 games with Washington, Wieters boasts a robust .841 OPS and has helped the Nats take a huge early-season lead in the NL East. Meanwhile, — whom Baltimore signed to replace Wieters behind the dish — was batting .314 before hitting the DL with shoulder soreness, and was instrumental in a surprising start that has seen the O’s stay at or near the top of the AL East ever since Opening Day.

As for how he’ll be received at Camden Yards, Wieters isn’t losing too much sleep thinking about it.

“They’re great fans, so I’m not really worried,” he said. “I feel like I’ll get a little bit of an ovation. But if I don’t, it’s OK. I enjoyed my time there.”

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