The Ravens pack up everything but the grass for summer camp


You think you've got laundry. Ed Carroll does 1,000 towels a day.

That's one of his many responsibilities as equipment manager for the Baltimore Ravens, whose pre-season football camp starts today in Westminster.

Every summer, he coordinates the move of the team's gear about 20 miles from its home in Owings Mills to Western Maryland College for a month of summer training. The team's inventory includes 50,000 pounds of weights and personal effects from team lockers to socks -- not to mention footballs, goal posts, blocking sleds and a scale for the players, who might weigh in at 300 pounds or more. The gear usually fills a 53-foot trailer and two 20-foot overseas shipping containers. The team's trainers use an additional truck to transport taping tables and tape.

There won't be much left at the Owings Mills site after the team shifts to Westminster.

"We're leaving the grass," Carroll said.

Everything had to be in place by today.

"This is my fifth year up there," Carroll said while walking through the team's equipment rooms in Owings Mills. "You get it down to a science. "

The National Football League team has been trucking out to the Western Maryland campus since 1996. In 1997, the college signed a five-year contract to play host for the camp. The team makes use of the college's athletic fields and gymnasium, and stays at a nearby motel owned by the private liberal arts college.

"Western Maryland College is a really good setup for us, and we're really happy here," said Bob Eller, the team's director of operations, who coordinates all aspects of the camp.

Planning for the relocation from Owings Mills, which begins in April, escalates to a fevered pitch during the week before camp opens.

There are lots of things to be done besides putting up NFL-regulation goal posts, and painting lines and the team logo on the practice fields.

Some of the rooms in the Best Western Motel where the Ravens and about 65 staff members stay during camp are altered to accommodate late-night meetings. The college clears out its equipment from the first floor of Gill Gymnasium for the team. Video equipment is set up to record practices. Concessions and seating are arranged for the more than 25,000 spectators expected during the next four weeks. The team's telephones are switched to ring in Westminster instead of Owings Mills during camp.

The Owings Mills practice facilities are adequate during the season, when players have only three full practices each week, as well as a walk-through prior to each game. During training camp, however, Ravens head coach Brian Billick schedules both a morning and evening practice each day. The 1 1/2 turf fields at Owings Mills cannot withstand the wear and tear of two daily practices.

With the combined mass of 84 men pounding on them on a regular basis, "you need to rotate your fields," Eller said.

In addition, having the players -- who come from all over the country -- live and work together in close quarters helps mold the team, Ravens personnel said. Most NFL teams choose to train away from their home bases, and sometimes end up hours away from the cities where they play.

"It really does promote a sense of unity when they're away from the usual routine," Eller said.

Although most training sessions begin without a hitch, college and Ravens officials had to contend with vandalism on one field this summer. A month ago, a vehicle drove across the Ravens' practice field and an adjacent baseball field, carving huge gashes in the otherwise even expanse of Bermuda grass. The damage was estimated at more than $6,000.

"It was heartbreaking because we had spent some effort in the spring getting it back into shape," said Vince Patterozzi, the Ravens' head groundsman.

Reseeding was out of the question, because it would have taken six to eight weeks for the new grass to become established, so the fields were repaired with sod. By today, Patterozzi said, "it'll be pool-table flat."

Although the team likes the Westminster site, team representatives say they aren't sure what's going to happen after next summer, the final year of the Ravens' contract with the college. Recently, Ravens President David Modell took a tour of Frostburg, where the Washington Redskins held summer training before switching to a site this year in northern Virginia.

Many in Westminster would like to see the Ravens stay.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., an organization dedicated to revitalizing the Carroll County seat and attracting new businesses to the area, points out that only a few communities are able to host a professional football team, and because the Baltimore Colts practiced in Westminster, it evokes a sense of history.

"The community at large welcomes them and their fans," Mathias said. "It's very exciting."

The hustle and bustle of moving into Western Maryland College doesn't compare to the process of breaking camp, scheduled for Aug. 16.

The team practices at Owings Mills the next morning, then leaves for a game against the Carolina Panthers that afternoon. A week's worth of moving in preparation for camp has to take place overnight after it ends.

"Going up, we can take our time, but leaving, it's a mad dash," Carroll said.

Although coach Billick holds only a morning practice on the last day of camp, Carroll knows he won't be done packing for the players and staff until the wee hours of the morning.

"I try to take all the worry," Carroll said. "They really just have to concentrate on their job, which is football."

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