'Baltimore' hits the road

Jerseys boast city name for first time since 1972

You did not have to be around for the glory days of the Orioles to understand why putting Baltimore back on the road jerseys is so uplifting to the city's soul.

"Every other team comes in here with their city's name on the front of their jerseys," said Kris Burton of Parkville as he stood inside the Gallery at Harborplace for the unveiling of the new jerseys yesterday afternoon. "It means a lot to me. I'm proud of Baltimore. It doesn't matter how bad [the Orioles have] been or how much they've been losing. I'm proud of my city."

Burton is 31 years old, meaning that he was born after the Orioles last wore Baltimore across their chests in other ballparks. He was 7 when the Colts sneaked out of town and left Baltimore without half of the most positive aspect of its identity to the rest of America.

Yet, in speaking of the meaning of the Orioles' gesture, he used a word that echoed throughout the rally - from younger fans to those who go back to the dawn of the glory days in the mid-1960s to the current manager, Dave Trembley.

Pride.

Yes, at times here, that comes off as provincialism. Or paranoia or poor self-esteem. But Baltimoreans come by it honestly. The loyalty that residents have for this town, their insistence on staying for generations and of passing down its stories, have long led Baltimoreans to fiercely defend the city's charms, pun intended.

The only charms, however, that most of America has acknowledged over the years - at least the years before Harborplace and the two stadiums were built - were the professional sports teams that represented it. Everything else about Baltimore? A joke. Literally. (From George Carlin's classic newscast routines: "In New York, it's 7 o'clock; in Chicago, it's 6o'clock; ... in Baltimore, it's 4:42.")

Back then, before the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Harbor Tunnel was widely admired for the way it got drivers around and under Baltimore without actually having to see it (or smell it). And we won't even print the long-standing nickname - if not invented by Washingtonians, then spread far and wide by them - for Baltimore residents. People today complain about the negative image from HBO's The Wire? That's practically a love sonnet compared with the old days.

The Orioles and Colts were more than exceptions. They were Baltimore's primary weapons against such slurs. And, yes, sources of pride in their beloved city that outshined all of the others combined.

Not only were they woven into the fabric of the city, collectively and individually, but they were the best. The Greatest Game Ever Played? Baltimore won it. Best quarterback ever? John Unitas played here. Baseball's greatest post-Yankees dynasty called this city home, with the city's name for all to see in every other American League city.

The desertion of the Colts, then, was nothing less than the theft of an identity - fans who still care about such things don't necessarily want the team back; they want the colors and logos back. The Ravens, as much as they're embraced, represent a much different Baltimore than the Colts did.

Pile that on top of the removal of Baltimore from the Orioles' jerseys for nearly four decades and then stir it up with the fact that it became entrenched under out-of-town ownership - a Washington lawyer, former owner of the Redskins, of all things. Then multiply it by the 11 straight losing seasons by the current version of the Orioles, while owned by a Baltimore guy who, hometown fans believe, should have known better than to not return the city's name to the uniforms immediately.

Few cities sense betrayal and abandonment as keenly as this one. Or embrace a pleasant past as tightly. Or keep a wound open and fresh as long.

And little besides the restoration of the lost identity could have drawn 2,500 to a rally for a team that just finished dead last and entered its second decade without a playoff appearance.

"We're not the Washington Orioles; we are the Baltimore Orioles," insisted Boog Powell, the legend, ballpark barbecue master and, yesterday, uniform model. "It's just like the Baltimore Colts - it's the same thing. They weren't the Washington Colts. It's Baltimore's team."

Now, for every other city to see.

"Damn right," Powell boasted. "And it feels good, too."
Road jerseys
1954: Orioles debut without city name on jerseys

1956: "Baltimore" appears on road uniforms for first time

1973: Year after Senators depart, "Baltimore" does too

2009: City name to return for first time since 1972




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