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Banner season for baseball in the Beltways

Orioles, Nationals run away with division crowns to delight of region

Sure, Baltimore is a great baseball town. Been one seemingly forever. Love them Birds, hon.

It's a place where the franchise's legends are identified by their first names or maybe their nicknames.

Video: Orioles celebrate franchise greats at Camden YardsFrank and Brooks.

Cal and Eddie.

Earl and Cakes.

That's Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer for those of you unfamiliar with the Land of Pleasant Living.

Ripken is an especially big name in Baltimore. Not only did Cal and his little brother, Billy, play for the Birds, but their late dad, Cal Sr., was a legendary instructor who pretty much co-wrote the book (along with Weaver) on what became known as The Oriole Way.

When Brooks Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, Gordon Beard of the Associated Press put everything in perspective.

"In New York, they name candy bars for Reggie Jackson," he said. "In Baltimore, we name our kids for Brooks Robinson."

When Camden Yards is packed and roaring, well, there just aren't many better places on the planet to spend a few hours.

Maybe you've heard that the Birds are back. Two playoff appearances in three seasons. Iconic stars, too.

Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters and others.

Buck and Dan, too.

That would be Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, the manager and general manager of the Orioles. They've become Baltimore rock stars for resurrecting the Birds. They've operated a front office that is as smart and efficient as any in the sport.

There was a time when the Orioles didn't just want to belong to Baltimore. They wanted to be Washington's team, too. They pretty much succeeded, some seasons drawing 30 percent of their home crowds from the District of Columbia and its suburbs.

For a time, the Orioles had the word "Baltimore" removed from their media guide and opened a team store a few blocks from the White House.

Washingtonians saw it differently. They wanted their own baseball team. Even as they came to care about the Orioles, they still thought there was enough interest in baseball to support two big league clubs.

After all, Washington had its own team for 70 years, from 1901 until 1971. Two teams packed up and left for reasons that still aren't precisely clear. Still when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington for the 2005 season, there was plenty of doubt that having two clubs 35 miles apart was a good idea.

Video: [email protected]: Zimmermann on first Nationals no-hitterNo more.

For the second straight season, the Nationals and Orioles combined to crack the 5 million mark in home attendance. Both teams were division champions, both winning 96 games.

The Orioles drew 2.464 million fans, their highest total since 2005. Meanwhile, just down the road, the Nationals drew 2.579 million, a slight decrease from 2013.

Sure, it helps that both teams are successful. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo built a great baseball organization one brick at a time. He has one of baseball's most recognizable faces in Bryce Harper and a couple of players -- Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman -- who came up through the system, developed into stars and have done a tremendous amount of work in the community.

Perhaps that's one of both franchise's secrets. With players like Jones and Zimmerman and plenty of others, these two teams are easy to root for.

Video: [email protected]: Jones shares pies with fans after clinchingCamden Yards' opening in 1992 changed baseball forever. It was the first of the retro ballparks, and it helped revive an area of downtown Baltimore.

In doing so, it became an example for other clubs. In San Francisco and Houston and Denver and other cities, ballpark construction prompted other development.

No place is a better example of this phenomenon than Southeast Washington. Nationals Park is located just over a mile south of the United States Capitol Building in an area that was once seedy and dangerous.

Video: Desmond highlights the Nats' longest homers of 2014It has a completely different look and feel these days, with restaurants and businesses sprouting for blocks around the ballpark. In that way, there'll always be a connection between these two franchises.

Still, to baseball fans in the two cities, it's about the teams. Both are good now and appear poised to be good for the foreseeable future. There were stretches last season when a Washington-Baltimore World Series seemed a decent possibility.

If that ever happens, it would be the crowning achievement for baseball in the area. On the other hand, drawing 5 million fans in back-to-back seasons might be crowning achievement enough.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles