Restaurant owner Harry Sirinakis got a taste of summer in Westminster without the Ravens this year during the NFL lockout. When the team canceled its annual training camp at McDaniel College, fewer people visited Sirinakis' place on Main Street. He didn't hire the extra servers he had in summers past.
On Friday, Sirinakis and others in the Carroll County town of 18,000 got the news that the Ravens would not return. The team announced that it would hold future training camps at its Owings Mills facility, ending a long-standing relationship with McDaniel and shutting out fans from most of its preseason workouts.
"Sickening," said Sirinakis, whose family has run Harry's Main Street Grille since 1946. "It is a sad day for this community."
Ravens president Dick Cass called the decision difficult. McDaniel's campus had been the home of Ravens training camp for the first 15 years of the franchise's history, and was the site of Baltimore Colts training camp from 1953 through 1971.
"We know we're disappointing McDaniel College, we're disappointing the town of Westminster and we're disappointing all of our fans who came out to those camps. We know that," said Cass, who wouldn't rule out a return to Westminster. "If we had been looking at this strictly from a football standpoint, it's a very easy decision. But the whole situation with our fans made it a very difficult decision."
For people in Westminster, the change means the end of a tradition that boosted business and brought recognition.
"Especially in these economic times, we kind of relied on those four to five weeks in August to be our economic shot in the arm," said Sirinakis, standing in front of a wall of Ravens and Colts memorabilia.
Outside the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce office in Westminster, trees were decorated with purple lights Friday evening. Chamber President Mike McMullin — who wore a Ravens T-shirt under his white button-down — said local businesses would survive without the training camp but that the decision would be hard for the community to take emotionally.
"It seems like the fans are being left out," McMullin said. "Without the fans, people don't buy tickets, and people don't get paid millions to play the sport."
People "see this town as their home when the Ravens are here," Mayor Kevin Utz said.
Every summer, fans patronize local stores, hotels and restaurants — all dressed in purple, black and white, Utz said.
"We know that it's going to be an economic loss," Utz said.
When the lockout prompted the Ravens to stay at their 200,000-square-foot training facility in Owings Mills, team officials voiced their plans to return to Westminster for 2012 training camp. Ultimately, the Ravens decided that the accommodations in their $31 million facility were much more conducive to the new NFL labor rules that limit training camp practices to one per day.
The annual summer pilgrimage of thousands of Baltimore football fans to Westminster — one that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti used to take as a kid with his family to meet Johnny Unitas and all the other Baltimore Colts greats — will end.
"From a football and team point of view, it's an easy decision. Personally, this is difficult," Bisciotti said in a statement released by the team. "Some of my best memories as a kid are my family's visits to the Colts' training camp in Westminster. Part of my devotion to the game and the players who made it great and are heroes to many of us, started on those visits."
More than 100,000 fans annually descended to Westminster to watch training camp. When training camp was moved to Owings Mills this past summer, Westminster officials estimated that its loss would have more than a $2 million economic impact on the city and local merchants.
Ethan Seidel, McDaniel's vice president of administration and finance, said school officials are disappointed but understand the Ravens' decision.
"If I put myself in their shoes, it gets to the point where how much logistics and effort do you put into moving your organization when you already have a facility designed for everything you do?" Seidel said.
The camp had more of a direct economic effect on the Westminster business community than on the college, Seidel added.
"Our benefit in hosting the Ravens, what we liked the most about it, was just the number of people that it brought to visit our campus and the publicity it brought," he said. "It's not a cash-flow issue for the college, but for a lot of local business, [losing the Ravens] makes a big impact."
The impact will also be felt by the Ravens' fans. The team's agreement with Baltimore County only allows for a limited number of fans to watch practice in Owings Mills. The complex doesn't have enough available parking spots and the surrounding roads couldn't handle the volume of traffic that training camp generates.
Training camp was a special experience for young fans, said Chris Frantz, president of Ravens Roost No. 115 in Westminster.
"There's a lot of kids that watch football on TV and they don't really get a sense of it," he said. "I have a 10-year-old son, and him going to training camp is a different experience, even from games. It gets a lot of kids interested in football."
Frantz said fans are planning a Dec. 17 rally at McDaniel.
"I don't think there's any chance of getting them to change their minds," he said, "but we're still going to have it just to show the brass at the Ravens organization just how big of a mistake they're making."
Cass said the team will conduct three open practices for fans, including at least one at M&T Bank Stadium, and invite community and military groups to Owings Mills. The Ravens are also hoping to hold a clinic with their players and coaches at McDaniel, though those plans haven't been made final.
The move wasn't a financial decision, Cass said, pointing out that because of the organization's training camp sponsors and partners, the team did not lose money going to Westminster. The team's complex in Owings Mills has better fields, a state-of-the-art weight room and conditioning area, and better medical facilities than those in Westminster. In past training camps, the Ravens had to shuttle equipment and supplies back and forth, a process that took about four days.
The Owings Mills complex also includes an indoor facility that can host practice in case of inclement weather.
"In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp, [but] how teams conduct training camp today is vastly different," said Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. "Our football needs and requirements are different."
Though many fans said they understood the reasoning, Patrick Amerena, 20, of Mt. Airy, still didn't like the move.
"I go every year, and this is a dumb decision," he said. "It's tradition, and you don't break tradition."
Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Eckard contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun