Ravens fans forced to watch their champs from a distance

Scheduling stalemate with Orioles puts season-opener 1,700 miles away

Baltimore's Ravens, reigning champions of professional football, kick off their new season Thursday night on national television while its Orioles once again have reached September with a shot at the playoffs. What's not to like?

Plenty, say some Baltimore sports fans.

For one thing — actually, the main thing — the Ravens will play the Broncos in Denver, a mile high and 1,700 miles from home. This marks the first time since the custom began that the Super Bowl champion won't host the National Football League Kickoff, the opening game of the season. Denver gets the game and Baltimore gets a pregame consolation concert on a barge in the Inner Harbor, which upsets some fans.

"I'd much rather we had a home game here. The Ravens won the Super Bowl, for crying out loud!" said Aaron Reinhart, owner of Swallow at the Hollow, a corner bar and restaurant at Northern Parkway and York Road in North Baltimore.

Of course, it's not the end of the world. But then, no one expects grown men and women to schedule the end of the world.

Scheduling a Ravens game around a weeknight Orioles game, how hard could that be?

Turns out, pretty hard. The teams negotiated last spring to try to accommodate a baseball-football doubleheader but couldn't come up with a solution. So the Ravens are in Colorado for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff on NBC.

Judging from social media comments and interviews with Baltimore sports fans, emotions about this run from anger to mild disappointment to shrugging resignation. Some Baltimoreans think it's a slap in the face. The NFL and the Orioles, they say, should have moved heaven and earth to make a home opener possible for the Ravens. Stephen A. Smith, the ESPN commentator, knocked the Orioles last week for not accommodating the Ravens, then sparred about it on Twitter with a Finksburg woman who defended the baseball team.

At the cozy Swallow, one of Reinhart's regular customers, Karl Beetz, also thinks the rap on the Orioles is unfair.

"What irritates me is people who want to make the Orioles the bad guy in this," Beetz said over a happy hour beer after a day of painting window frames at his house in Northwood. "They're not the bad guy."

But Reinhart thinks the Orioles could have tried harder.

"You're telling me they couldn't push the Orioles to a weekend doubleheader to give the Ravens a Thursday-night home game?" he said from behind the Swallow's well-stocked bar, beneath two TV screens almost always tuned to sports channels.

Someone along the bar answered: "A doubleheader would put the Orioles out of sync."

"I think their pitching staff is out of sync," Reinhart said.

Beetz, draft at hand, cut to the bottom line: "This is about business and money. The NFL wants to establish Thursday night as the big opening of the new season, no matter what. The NFL wants to have that whole day. They want to own the day."

Here's how Sept. 5 came to be a conundrum:

The Orioles have been scheduled to play a 7:05 p.m. home game against the Chicago White Sox on the first Thursday after Labor Day since the 2013 Major League Baseball schedule was released a year ago.

A problem arose with the Ravens' success. By winning Super Bowl XLVII in early February, they earned, among other honors, the right to host the NFL Kickoff — on the first Thursday after Labor Day.

Recognizing that conflict, representatives of the teams tried to work out a way to give the Ravens a home game. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, called a potential baseball-football doubleheader the "right thing," and expressed hope that it would gain MLB approval.

But, like a lot of negotiations, this one was complicated.

The Orioles couldn't play a 1 p.m. game because they and the White Sox were traveling to Baltimore after night games in different cities and didn't want such a quick turnaround during a pennant race. The Orioles offered to play at 4:05 p.m., but they and the Ravens agreed that would create a logistical headache at the downtown sports complex.

The Ravens considered shifting the game to Wednesday night, but ran into the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. And coach John Harbaugh nixed a Sunday game, preferring a Thursday away game followed by nine days of rest before the Ravens' home opener Sept. 15 against the Cleveland Browns.

After a couple of days of discussion, the Ravens and the Orioles determined that the potential issues, including parking and traffic, were too much to overcome. Negotiations ended in a polite stalemate in late March, with the teams acknowledging each other's efforts.

Now the first Thursday after Labor Day has arrived and Baltimore football fans must face reality. Instead of a big, opening-night party at M&T Bank Stadium, they get a free concert by Grammy-winning country singer Keith Urban near the Maryland Science Center, fireworks and a light show. Most of us will do what we always do: watch the game on television.

The Orioles have been portrayed as stubbornly refusing to defer to the Ravens, leading some commentators to criticize the ownership and triggering a spirited social media debate.

"This makes Baltimore look like a second-class city," Gregory Adamo, an associate professor of communications atMorgan State University, posted on my Facebook page.

"One wins a championship once in a long while, if ever," Plato Hieronimius, a strategy consultant in Baltimore, added to that thread. "I'd expect the Ravens to accommodate the Orioles had the roles been reversed."

Katie Gore of Loch Raven Village defended the Orioles. "The O's schedule was set. The NFL could and should have moved the game. The NFL would unlikely have ever changed their end-of-season schedule had the situation been reversed."

Another Facebook comment, from Brett Prather of Owings Mills, provided a mature perspective. "I'll be at the Orioles game watching and cheering them on," he wrote. "I will have my radio with me listening to the Ravens game and cheering them on. What's the problem? I am capable of doing two things at once. I root for all Baltimore teams. It is my city."

Indeed, Baltimore sports fans get pretty uncomfortable if you ask them to choose between the Ravens and the Orioles.

"The [schedule] conflict is unfortunate," says John Eller, who lives in Otterbein, near Camden Yards, but who takes his beer on tap at the Swallow. "But I'm just glad that, here we are, after Labor Day, and the Orioles are still playing games that mean something."

Eller's plan for the evening goes like this: "My wife, sister-in-law and daughter are going to the Keith Urban concert. I'm going to make them mini-crabcake appetizers and then go up to the Swallow and watch the Ravens game."

And the Swallow has enough screens to accommodate both Orioles and Ravens fans.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

drodricks@baltsun.com

 
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