The Ravens’ training camp experience has never been the same since the team’s exodus from Westminster.
As you may have read or heard, this year’s Ravens training camp at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills — which will be the sixth since the departure from Westminster’s McDaniel College in the summer of 2011— will be virtually devoid of fans coming out to experience the joy of practice.
The Ravens have been actively in the training camp expansion mode for a while now as they quietly purchased some of the properties around 1 Winning Drive. They started the redo and renovations just after the 2016 season. This summer, the renovations will make it a training camp with only a few community groups allowed inside.
The long-term gains, which will include a substantial uptick in fan capacity, will be a plus for the franchise and it’ll give the team many more options at having “training camp” fan experiences.
And while the training facility expansion isn’t all about adding to the team’s coffers, surely the experiential aspect improvements also will present the team added flexibility selling sponsors into said experiences. Additionally, it will allow the Ravens to do what NFL teams like to do — get their fans to spend money on stuff.
In 2011, the Ravens’ last training camp at McDaniel College, drew about 110,000. I’d say that is probably about 30,000 to 40,000 more fans than the Ravens have been able to squeeze into 1 Winning Drive over the past six training camps combined.
While I have never really understood the allure of watching football practice, football fans love going out to watch practice. It is a football team’s equivalent to baseball’s spring training, only with broiling hot weather mixed with enough humidity to suffocate. And let’s not forget to throw in just a touch of thunderstorms to the recipe.
At least that’s the way I’ll always fondly recall those Ravens summers in Westminster out at McDaniel College and the headquarters hotel, the always charming Best Western Hotel. The old Baltimore Colts used to walk the same paths during many of their nearly 30 seasons in Baltimore before Robert Irsay stole them away in the middle of the night in 1984.
Those Ravens’ summers at Westminster from 1996-2011 were like a renewal for long-suffering Colts fans, and they allowed Baltimore to kiss their new team before moving onto the more serious intimacy that was about to take bloom leading up to that magical 2000 season when Baltimore was once again at the top of the football world.
For me, the actual practices themselves were pure drudgery. As admitted earlier, I would walk around from one scrum to the next with only a rudimentary understanding of the proceedings.
But what I do remember was the look of joy on the faces of the daily throngs who would attend those 20 or so practices. I remember the likes of Michael McCrary, Tony Siragusa, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis or a Jonathan Ogden bringing smiles to the countless faces of kids and their parents alike as they signed just about every autograph they could.
I even remember hearing stories of how this was how Kevin Plank tried to put his earliest product prototypes into the hands of professional athletes.
But mostly, I think of how each time when I entered Westminster proper, there was a feeling like I was on a mini-vacation back to a timeless sense of community.
Next summer, a new era will unveil itself at 1 Winning Drive. It’s called progress, and I get that. But for me, on the way out to the Ravens’ camp in Owings Mills, a midsummer thunderstorm will never be as magical again.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is the founder and publisher of PressBox.
Top photo: At training camp in Westminster in 2008, the Ravens’ Brandon Carr (left) goes up against Fabian Washington. (Photo by Sabina Moran/PressBox)