Dreary days for long-suffering Nats fans

At Nationals Park, the die-hards are few and far between, compared with the horde of casual observers and fans of the opposing team.-Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Gloomy skies and a cold drizzle ushered in the 2011 baseball season as the Washington Nationals played before the smallest Opening Day crowd since the squad's days in Montreal.

As with every new spring, most of the 39,055 fans were optimistic on Opening Day, even for a team that has yet to post a winning record since it moved here in 2005.

"I'm still thrilled, no matter how low the quality of the team, that Washington has a baseball team," said David Dreyer, a longtime D.C. resident.

(More) 'Beer here' on Opening Day

The Bullpen

Opening Day at Nationals Park this year may not include a win for our beloved basement dwellers, but it will give fans more chances to drown their sorrows.

The Bullpen, the outdoor bar, music and food joint that has operated across the street from the center field gates on Half Street, has announced plans to open a beer garden on the same block, according to the blog JDLand.

Nationals' baseball academy close to construction after delays

The Washington Nationals are close to realizing their promise of bringing a youth baseball academy to the inner city -- thanks to the District footing at least two-thirds of the bill.
More than five years after baseball returned to D.C., a baseball academy in Southeast's Fort Dupont Park is expected to get the go-ahead for construction if approved by the city zoning board Thursday. The cost to build the academy is $13 million to $15 million, according to the Nationals. D.C. has authorized a grant of more than $10 million.

Collectors say the value of truly rare items has increased


Rick Currence, owner of Sports Card Heroes in Laurel, will be exhibiting at the National Sports Collectors Convention beginning Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center.The 31st annual National Sports Collectors Convention begins in Baltimore on Wednesday, and the uncertain economic climate hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for a sometimes pricey industry — local collectors say this is still one of their busiest weeks of the year.

Exhibitors say the demand for sports memorabilia since the 2008 recession has gone two ways — while interest has dropped for the “manufactured” memorabilia, the value of the more rare items has increased.

“We didn’t see a change in interest in the older, true collectible stuff,” said Bill Huggins, co-owner of Huggins & Scott Auctions in Silver Spring. “The ‘true’ stuff is stuff usually [manufactured before] 1970 and it didn’t have a value before. Hence if you’re cleaning out your house, those are first things that get thrown away. Those have really held value through the economic recession.”

The items that have taken a bigger hit are collectibles like limited edition prints or autographed items that don’t have historical significance. (Think Nolan Reimold bobble-heads.)

Strasburg’s arrival translates into sellouts, TV ratings for Nats

How big is Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg?

 He’s big enough to sell out Nationals Park days in advance of his scheduled major league debut Tuesday night.

The 100-mph-fastball pitcher is big enough to catapult ad sales — and rates — on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network for his expected starts this month.

The 21-year-old phenom is even big enough to inspire 249-year-old Strasburg, Va. to rename itself (if only temporarily) Stephen Strasburg, Va.

Simply put, expectations have soared beyond Earth’s gravitational pull and the money is already flowing — all before Strasburg throws his first big league pitch.

No one knows if Strasburg’s on-the-field performance will live up to the hype, but the Nationals are already starting to reap the financial benefits after signing him to a $15.1 million contract — highest ever for a rookie — last August.

For the Orioles, selling hope is the key

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

With the chill of a particularly brutal winter finally replaced by warm sun and blue skies, it’s almost natural for most baseball fans to greet the start of baseball season with at least a glimmer of optimism and good spirits.

On the other hand, if you’re an Orioles fan who has endured a dozen straight losing seasons, that cupboard is pretty bare.

But there seems to be a buzz this spring in Baltimore that hasn’t been heard in years, and it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about the team and its future.

While many say it’ll still take time for the chatter to translate into bodies in the seats at Camden Yards, an average of 1,000 more fans per game are showing up at spring training games this year, an excitement that’s also fueled by the team’s new location in Sarasota. And some say the team, which opens its season on the road Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and its fans are heading to better days.

It’s not that the Orioles are selling hope and optimism inspired by a fresh start and everybody’s just happy to buy it — they’re selling a plan for the franchise that at least some Baltimoreans say they can believe in.

Mystery revealed: Angelos buys Boccaccio

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos just purchased Boccaccio Restaurant in Little Italy, which has been the site of key meetings for him over the yearsOrioles owner Peter G. Angelos is the new owner of Boccaccio Restaurant in Little Italy, an establishment in which he once was a regular fixture.

 A representative who bought the property at Wednesday’s auction for $1.45 million was there on behalf of Angelos, said Andrew L. Billig, of A.J. Billig & Co. Auctioneers. Billig had declined to name the buyer — at Angelos’ request — Wednesday.

Angelos was friends with the restaurant’s owner, Giovanni Rigato, who opened the upscale Italian restaurant known for its cuisine and extensive wine selection in 1992. Boccaccio closed shortly after Rigato’s death in August 2008.

“Although he frequented a number of places, I think it’s fair to say it was his favorite place,” said Gerald E. Evans, an Annapolis lobbyist and longtime friend of Angelos. “I know it’s a labor of love for him buying that place.”

Angelos, who is also known as a master litigator and a major player in downtown real estate, was not available for comment.

WMAR outsourcing its 11 p.m. sportscast to PressBox

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

After months without a sportscaster of its own, Baltimore’s WMAR has turned to a local sports media company to produce sports segments on its nightly television newscasts — a move some say is a financial win for both companies but a potential loss for viewers.

PressBox, a Baltimore company with a monthly newspaper, a Web site, and weekly television and radio shows, started producing the script and voiceover for WMAR’s sportscasts more than a week ago and plans to officially announce the new relationship Monday.

A handful of PressBox writers — including company founder Stan “The Fan” Charles and managing editor Kevin Heitz — serve as the nightly voice of the sportscast. A 90-second voiceover of highlights and news is recorded and sent to WMAR, where the video is later edited in and aired during the 11 p.m. newscast.

O’s returning FanFest to January

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium is dark, pitchers and catchers report in 29 days and Baltimore Orioles’ baseball season unofficially kicks off this weekend with the first wintertime FanFest in four years.

Saturday marks the event’s return to the Baltimore Convention Center, its home until 2007. That year, FanFest was moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and held just before Opening Day due to a conflict with a Ravens home playoff game.

Sports marketers say the move back to January is a better one for the team because FanFest will coincide with the launch of single-game ticket sales and gets fans into baseball season early.

Guarding athletes’ assets

Daily Record Business Writer
August 24, 2009 8:06 PM

To the average retiree, $50,000 a year in investment income when you’re 65 years old isn’t a bad deal.

But to a 45-year-old former baseball player who was making twice that amount before the recession — and needs his money to last him the rest of his life — it’s a big reality check that can be difficult to take.

Joseph Geier manages the investments for about 60 retired and current athletes.Last year’s stock market plunge, which saw many investment portfolios lose nearly half their value, has caused some retired athletes to make living adjustments and is proving a cautionary tale to those still in the game, advisors to professional and retired athletes say.

Joseph Geier, president of Geier Financial Group in Marriottsville, said the last 12 months have been stressful as head of a company that manages approximately $150 million in assets for about 70 high-net worth clients and 60 retired and current athletes including Cal Ripken Jr., Mark Teixeira and Melvin Mora.

Geier said his company takes a very conservative management style to investments, and the average portfolio under his purview lost 10 to 20 percent of its value while the market lost 40 percent of its value. But when you’re talking about this kind of money, a 20 percent portfolio loss is still in the millions.

Of the athletes, mostly baseball players, he said the retirees are affected most by the downturn.

“They don’t have ability to replace that money that was lost as quickly as someone who’s sill working,” Geier said. “A guy loses 10 percent of his portfolio and he’s only 45 and he’s not working anymore.”

A retrospective: Peter Angelos at 80

Daily Record Business Writer
July 2, 2009 4:06 PM

What the Peter G. Angelos name means in Baltimore depends on whom you ask.

Angelos, who turns 80 on Saturday, is a legal giant — a civic white knight who became the “king of asbestos” in the 1980s, securing $1 billion in settlements for tens of thousands of union workers he has represented for nearly 50 years and identified with his entire life.

He’s also the businessman who some say is suffocating the very baseball team he set out to restore as a source of pride for his adopted city.

A multimillionaire, Angelos could be living in the lap of luxury and enjoying retirement. Instead, the son of Greek immigrants spends six days a week in the office and is just as hands-on with his business ventures as he was decades ago.

Angelos, the authoritative O's owner

Daily Record Business Writer
July 2, 2009 4:15 PM

Looking around Peter G. Angelos’ office on the 22nd floor of One Charles Center, you’d never guess he had anything to do with the Baltimore Orioles.

The tiny clues are practically drowned out by the brilliantly distracting view of the Inner Harbor, the artwork on the walls and the display shelves that house statues and honors from legal and horsemen’s associations.

If you’re looking for something to tell you he’s the owner of Baltimore’s oldest franchise, there’s a notepad with a Major League Baseball logo on his desk and a couple of baseball-related books stacked behind his desk. That’s it.

“I’d insist [people] refer to me as a competent lawyer first,” he said when asked how he wanted to be remembered. “The Orioles are strictly secondary. Or maybe third or fourth.”

But like it or not, that’s not how Baltimore’s baseball fans see it. Angelos says he and his ownership group bought the team to ensure it would remain controlled by Baltimoreans, but many say his micromanaging style has turned a perennial winner into a perennial disappointment.

Buzz over O's prospect Wieters has entrepreneurs hopeful

Daily Record Business Writer
May 28, 2009 8:21 PM

It’s Matt Wieters time, Hon.

Friday night’s anticipated debut of baseball’s top prospect in a Baltimore Orioles jersey has elicited a frenzy of chatter and excitement among fans and media — and it’s a buzz the team and quick-thinking entrepreneurs are hoping to cash in on.

Ian Oland, left, and Daniel Moroz, co-founders of, a blog dedicated to Baltimore Orioles newest catcher Matt Wieters.“Clearly for someone who’s yet to have an at-bat in the major leagues, the hype is enormous,” said Orioles spokesman Greg Bader.

One Web site,, run by Daniel Moroz and Ian Oland, has been averaging 3,500 hits a day and 1,400 unique visitors since the Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail announced Wieters’ call-up during the Tuesday night game’s broadcast.

“It’s been really, really nuts,” said Oland, 24, a graphic designer in Columbia and author of the I Never Stop Designing blog. “I think the better he plays the better our traffic is going to be.”

Orioles' opening day - Vendors not selling optimism

Daily Record Business Writer
April 6, 2009 8:01 PM

The weather may have cleared for the Orioles home opener against the Yankees on Monday but the business forecast was still gloomy from vendors who rely on the ballpark for sales.

Vendor Jay Smith, of Philadelphia, said he usually sells ‘a couple hundred’ soft pretzels at an event, ‘but Orioles [games] are usually below average for me.’“I’ll normally sell a couple hundred [pretzels] at an event, but Orioles [games] are usually below average for me,” said Jay Smith, a Philadelphia-based pretzel vendor who has been in the business for nearly a half century.

“The only games that are good are the ones against the Yankees and Red Sox,” he said. “Otherwise it’s practically a wash for me to come down here and do this.”

The sentiment was echoed up and down Howard and Conway streets outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards Monday afternoon as vendors hawked food, t-shirts and souvenirs to fans making their way to the ballpark.

“The Yankees and Boston — they’re the ones that keep us in business,” said Lauren Edgar, who works at one of Stadium Caps’ two stands on Howard Street.

Bringing the Markakis brand to Baltimore and beyond

Daily Record Business Writer
April 2, 2009 6:16 PM

When the Orioles signed 25-year-old Nick Markakis to a six-year, $66.1 million contract extension in February, the team brought home its top priority in the offseason.

John Maroon: ‘So what we want people to think of is Nick [Markakis] is a guy that cares about Maryland and is an outstanding baseball player — which is what people here think now — and continue that on a national scale.’His future in Baltimore no longer a question mark, Markakis has hired a local firm to build his brand and catapult him into the national sports scene.

But for Markakis to jump from local hero to national celebrity while playing in a midsized market, the onus is on him not to just be good — he has to be great.

There are two ways that can happen, said John Maroon, president and founder of Markakis’ new agency, Marriottsville-based Maroon PR. One is to “catch lightning in a bottle” and garner national media attention through some extraordinary turn of events.

That happened to sports agent Joe Linta’s client, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, when the rookie led the underdog team to an 11-5 record last season and one win away from the Super Bowl. Since then, endorsement deals, including one from Pizza Hut, have been pouring in during the offseason, Linta said.

The big drop in O’s attendance doesn’t lend itself to a quick fix

Daily Record Business Writer
April 2, 2009 6:06 PM

Come Monday, the streets around Oriole Park at Camden Yards will be alive with baseball fans coming out of their winter hibernation — a guaranteed swirl of black and orange, mixed with visiting Yankee blue — and filled with anticipation, predictions and for some, maybe a little hope.

But it’s not Opening Day Orioles marketers have to worry about. Nor will it be the other 17 days this Orioles spokesman Greg Bader: ‘Fans are less willing to commit those dollars upfront to specific games during the course of the year. They might be more willing to do that when the economy is strong.’year that the Orioles host the Yankees or the Boston Red Sox — which both draw sizable contingents of out-of-town fans.

It’s those other 63 games on Baltimore’s home schedule; those games that last year averaged about 20,700 people in a more than 48,000-seat park and highlight the fact that it hasn’t been easy to fill Camden Yards these days.

But the team’s attendance problem has been caused by a number of factors and doesn’t lend itself to a quick fix.

With 11 straight losing seasons and nine straight years of failing to crack the 3 million mark in annual attendance at Camden Yards, 2008 marked a new low for the team and its ability to draw fans.

Unfortunate milestones last year included producing the least-attended game in Camden Yards history with 10,505 fans one early April night and 1.95 million in total attendance for 78 games — a record-low for the ballpark’s 17 seasons.

Camden Yards' video boards complete HD transition

Daily Record Business Writer
April 1, 2009 6:36 PM

If you thought there was something a little off last year with the footage on the high definition video board at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, you were right — the project was only half finished.

Bryan Krandle, in-game entertainment manager for the Orioles, works the high-definition scoreboard at Camden Yards from the stadium’s new control room.On Tuesday, after two off-seasons of work and an investment of approximately $9.1 million from the Maryland Stadium Authority, team officials unveiled the completed control room, which can now play high definition video and sound.

Last year the new video board went up — replacing the 16-year-old JumboTron — and fans got sharper graphics, but the control room at the park was still only capable of transmitting in standard definition.

“We are now one of 10 teams to be fully high definition-capable, which is an honor,” said Monica Barlow, director of public relations for the Orioles. “This is going to be a great entertainment experience for our fans.”

The Orioles join the Nationals, Mets, Yankees, Braves, Reds, Royals, Marlins, Diamondbacks and Giants in teams with ballparks that are fully HD-capable. The video board for Nationals Park, which opened a year ago, has about twice the square footage of the boards at Camden Yards.

My First: At the mic and at law, experience breeds confidence

If you’ve been to a University of Maryland football game in College Park, you’ve heard him. If you saw the school’s basketball team play Sunday at the BB&T Classic tournament in Washington, D.C., you know his voice.

In fact, Philip R. Hochberg has been announcing area ballgames over public address systems longer than he’s been practicing law. To many, the sports attorney’s voice, which called Washington Redskins games and the Senators from their first game to their last in D.C.’s RFK Stadium, has been synonymous with major sporting events in the area for almost a half century.