THESE ARE GLORIOUS days for sports fans in this region. For the first time in more than a decade, we get to cheer for a hometown team in major-league baseball and football. Not only that, but the excitement is building for both clubs.
The Orioles are in a playoff race. Every game is packed with nail-biting intensity. Screaming fans pack Oriole Park. Those at home are glued to their TV sets.
Meanwhile, football fanatics shouted themselves hoarse welcoming back an NFL team they could call their own. That scene will be repeated seven more times at sold-out Memorial Stadium this season. Though the current Ravens squad may not be Super Bowl material, the playoffs remain a possibility in a conference that lacks overpowering clubs.
Yet all is not copacetic on the local sporting scene. There is tension, and plenty of it, in Camden Yards.
Peter G. Angelos, the Orioles' majority partner who has been put on a pedestal for giving the baseball team local ownership once again, has been less than thrilled to share the sports spotlight with Ravens owner Art Modell.
Time and again, the Orioles have put road blocks in the way of the Ravens and the construction of a football stadium at Camden Yards. Whatever the Maryland Stadium Authority wants to do, the Orioles object. The baseball club feels the Ravens have become the favored son of the stadium authority, given special treatment.
This drives officials at the stadium authority batty. All they are trying to do is build a football stadium. To them, it's not about favoritism but meeting an extraordinarily tight construction timetable.
But to Mr. Angelos it's about a lack of parity with the Ravens deal struck by the authority. And more than anything else right now, it's about parking spaces being gobbled up by construction crews building the Ravens' new nest.
The Orioles owner got upset last winter when Gov. Parris Glendening sealed the deal with Mr. Modell without consulting him. He was further irritated when he saw the favorable terms of the Ravens' contract. He wants the same treatment.
zTC Several times, he thought the governor had agreed to "work things out." It never happened.
The result has been a rupture of Mr. Angelos' rapport with the governor. Count him in that growing list of business leaders who'd be happy to back a challenger in the Democratic primary two years hence. It is once again a case of Mr. Glendening telling a businessman or politician what he or she wants to hear -- and then failing to follow through on that promised action.
Mr. Angelos' irritation with the governor may grow in the weeks ahead. The loss of parking spaces won't hit hard until the final home stand next weekend. But if the Birds reach the playoffs, the Orioles owner will really be steamed at the headaches prompted by the rush to get the football stadium up and open in time for Mr. Glendening to crow about it before the Democratic primary in September 1998.
All this stems, in part, from the fact that Mr. Angelos now has competition -- for fans, for media attention, for advertising revenue and for corporate skybox patrons. It also means Mr. Angelos is no longer king of the hill; he's not the only sports big-shot in town.
But much of Mr. Angelos' displeasure stems from the tin ear of Maryland's governor. By excluding Mr. Angelos from all football discussions, by not renegotiating the Orioles' agreement as soon as the Ravens' deal was sealed, by not coming up with a way last winter to deal with the Orioles' parking crunch that would satisfy the owner and by not seeking Mr. Angelos' counsel, Mr. Glendening created a problem. It may be too late to repair the damage.
The Orioles probably will litigate the parity issue over its stadium contract. Stadium-authority officials have scrambled with remarkable success to find replacement spaces for much of the parking soon to be lost, but the bitterness lingers. And as the new football edifice slowly rises, the Orioles owner will be reminded each time he sees it of the governor's empty promises.
It's a bitter pill to swallow. The Orioles owner will have to grudgingly learn to share the Camden Yards complex -- and the hearts of Baltimore-area sports fans.
Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.
Pub Date: 9/15/96