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For fans, Ravens fever finally unlocked

By this time in a normal year, Ravens fan Kathi Smero would already have been to the team's training camp in Westminster to see how things were shaping up for the coming season. She might have already started replenishing her closet with Ravens gear for the Purple Fridays and game days ahead.

This year, though, the lockout that idled the NFL forced the Ravens to cancel training camp at McDaniel College and put their fans' pre-season routines on hold. But with the lockout over and the Ravens having an open practice at M&T Stadium on Saturday, Smero and others are both happy and more than a little desperate to make up for lost time.

"I need a football fix," declared Smero, president of Ravens Nest #1, a 200-member fan club based in Harford County. "This is the only opportunity to see the team. It's a chance to see the new guys, and see how people are working out."

With all the pent-up football fever built over the four-month lockout, Ravens officials expect more than 20,000 fans to attend the free workout.

And they won't be the only ones cheering — bars and restaurants in the area are welcoming Saturday's practice session as the launch of a season that not so long ago was in jeopardy. For businesses that rely on a stream of fans before, during and after games, any delay to the season would have hurt their bottom line.

"We would have nothing in the fall without football," said Chris Abdulghani, owner of Bullpen, a bar across fromCamden Yards.

Saturday will bring something of a two-sport doubleheader to the area, with the Ravens' workout starting at M&T at 10 a.m. and the Orioles hosting the Blue Jays at 7:05 p.m. — and give area businesses twice the shot at hungry or thirsty fans.

"It should be a great chance to see how the season's going to take off for the Ravens," Abdulghani said, "and how we're going to keep going for the Orioles."

With the Os grinding through another losing season, though, Baltimore sports fans are turning hopeful eyes to the Ravens. They were robbed of their usual off-season source of Ravens mania, though, when the team canceled its training camp in Westminster, a beloved local tradition that dates back to when the Colts similarly worked out at what was then Western Maryland College.

The practices at the college gave fans a close-up glimpse of players both during practices and at bars and restaurants around the small Carroll County town.

"For us in Baltimore, we do get spoiled," said Smero, 51, who works in sales for FedEx. "It's a short drive from just about anywhere to see the guys we love."

Last summer's training camp drew a record 112,051 fans, and was sorely missed this year with the team deciding to hold camp at their Owings Mills facility, which isn't set up to allow fans to attend workouts. Some remain a bit miffed at missing out on the summertime practices.

"It's hard to get into it when they're not here," said Chris Frantz, a season ticket holder who heads the Ravens Roost #15 in Westminster. "I am a little less excited, for sure."

Frantz, 41, said he hasn't heard many of his fellow fans in town talking about going to Saturday's workout downtown, although he went to last year's stadium workout.

"My son was really into it, and wanted to go to the stadium," he said of his 10-year-old, Jackson. "For the Westminster kids, it's great. My son's day care used to go twice a year to the camp. It's been a lot different this year — very, very different. I really hope they come back next year. The town took a big hit."

But Frantz, who works in medical sales, said he expects any lingering hard feelings to dissipate by the time the season starts, particularly since the Ravens open at home against their archrivals, the Steelers, on Sept. 11.

It's not just fans who are ready for football. Area businesses are anxious to get football underway.

"After suffering through the Orioles season, I and others are looking for football to start," said Sonny Morstein, a jeweler and president of the South Baltimore Business Association. "A Ravens game, it's like Christmas here."

The end of the lockout last month unleashed a frenzy of activity — and not just with hurriedly scheduled practices and free agent signings, but among fans as well.

Kyle Kessler, manager of Pickles Pub, said fans started calling the bar after the end of the lockout was announced, requesting that it host fantasy football drafts for them.

"Football is football. Something's got to get you through the winter," Kessler said. "We're ready to get rolling with football season. We're just glad it's back."

Last year's pre-season practice at M&T drew a crowd of 17,851 and prompted Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to look to make it an annual tradition. This year, the free event — no tickets are needed and parking is available at no charge in lots A, B, C and G — will feature appearances by the Marching Ravens Pep Band, the Ravens cheerleaders, team mascot Poe, former Baltimore football players, interactive games, face painting and memorabilia sales.

And, of course, a chance to celebrate the end of the lockout — and that time of year when Baltimore's two major league sports seasons overlap.

"Having both the teams on in one day is super," said Bullpen's Abdulghani. "This weekend's a great opportunity for everybody, we're looking forward to it. The difference is, usually on Saturdays, things start later in the day. I think this Saturday there will be a lot more going on during the day."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

xcxrlevin@baltsun.com

Ravens public workout

When: Saturday. Parking lots A, B, C and G at M&T Bank Stadium open at 8 a.m. Gates A and D open at 9 a.m. and the Ravens take the field at 10 a.m.

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

Cost: There is no charge for parking or admission into the stadium.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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