Friday, December 9, 2011

Used to be close to the fans, now it's closed to the fans

Even back to when I was a kid (see "My Civil War Memories") the pro football team from Baltimore had their summer training camp in bucolic Westminster, MD, a town in Carroll County known for that camp, and for being almost universally called "West MINIster" around here.

The name of the pro football team has changed from Colts to Ravens, and the name of the college where the estival practices are held went from Western Maryland College to McDaniel, but still, every summer, the crowds go out there, packing local bars and restaurants and outlining the fields, watching both established stars and rookies who are soon to be on their way back home sweating through calisthenics and scrimmages in the unrelenting August heat. Then, after practice, the players would sign autographs for the kids.  It was good family fun, and good public relations for the team, and everyone benefited.

So, naturally, it's never going to happen again.

This past summer, with the NFL player strike or lockout, whichever it was, there was no time for the traditional summer camps, so the Ravens had their workouts at their palatial practice facility at Owings Mills, here in Baltimore County.  Owings Mills is a town chiefly noted for being almost universally referred to as "Owings MILL."  The Ravens have offices, fields, gymnasia and other facilities there.  It sort of looks like Versailles did before it got so run down over there. 

And they found out that it worked out just fine to have camp there, where no fans are allowed, so they told Westminster and McDaniel College "thanks a lot, fellas" and bade them goodbye.  They said they will arrange to have a scrimmage or two open to the public at the football stadium downtown, but something about that felt a lot like when someone you work with gets a great new job and they promise to come back "all the time" and "write and call every day" and you never hear from them again.  It's a shame, and people who used to plan a week of summer vacation around a "ride up to Westminister hon" are going to have to think about a few days at Twitty City instead.

Fans are, as you might expect, vexed and miffed, possibly even irked, over this.  But, also a predictable outcome: they took their vexation to the wrong forum.

Ravens Running back Ray Rice (from Rutgers) (r)has established himself, in three years, as a star in the league, a fan favorite around here, and a popular member of the community as well.  He grew up in tight circumstances, and it's particularly nice of him to be as generous as he is with his time and effort and resources.  He maintains a Facebook page, shares thoughts and opinions with his fans, and also uses the page to arrange charity drives around back-to-school time and Christmas time.  In exchange for autographed photos of #27, people can donate gifts to these causes, which wind up in the hands of the deserving, so it's all good. 

But this past weekend, Ray had to step in on his page and ask people to stop hollering at him because of this move by the team. "I don't make these decisions; I just run the ball!" he had to tell those who upbraided him for the choice made by management. 

Again, it's like when people howl at the server because they don't like the way their Chateaubriand tastes, or because someone was Palin too much sauce on their baked Alaska. The owner of the team is a man named Steve Bisciotti (r) who started a temporary-employment agency in his basement,  and now is the 655th richest person in the world, with 1.5 billion semolians in his mattress.  He would be the man who signs Ray Rice's paycheck, so if you have comments on his football operation, I'm sure he'd want to hear from you.  His home phone number is oops out of space, sorry.

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