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At Ravens' festival, fans actually feel festive

The Baltimore Sun

As continued proof of the high price of losing, we give you ... the dueling fanfests.

A crowd of 11,582 gladly parted with up to $15 each and braved threatening skies, full parking lots, crowded concourses, long lines and a possible seven-hour wait for the Ravens' first-round draft selection, to attend the Spring Football Festival yesterday. It was very kid-friendly, with games for the youngsters covering two-thirds of the M&T; Bank Stadium field, and the grown-ups were served by the broadcast of the NFL draft on the scoreboards (not to mention beer sales).

A random, unscientific poll of those in attendance, however, indicated that the main attraction was the chance to just be in the stadium. Even for season-ticket holders from Season One.

That's what happens when the home team wins.

Four weeks ago, the Orioles held their FanFest across the parking lot at Camden Yards - the delayed FanFest pushed back to the Sunday before Opening Day from its original January date, which had conflicted with the Ravens-Indianapolis Colts playoff game. The Orioles got a healthy turnout, largely of eager kids, too.

Yet more grumbling came out of that event than the one yesterday - the lines were too long, it was too hard to get autographs, there weren't enough people around to assist, they had the audacity to charge for it. In general, they felt neglected. Many fans at the stadium yesterday said they had kicked the Birds habit long ago, and many who had hung in there hadn't attended this month's Orioles event, hadn't attended past events and didn't have much desire to attend ones in the future.

Even though the same issues that annoyed Orioles FanFest patrons at the beginning of the month were shrugged off by the Ravens' faithful yesterday. Long lines for the locker-room tour? No problem. Long waits for autographs? Worth it. Ten bucks in the middle of the offseason? A bargain. Besides, the consensus was, the Ravens would smooth out any little kinks next time, just like they smoothed out the kinks from years past.

Why the everlasting confidence in the Ravens, and the disgusted surrender with the Orioles?

"They win," said Walter Montgomery of Baltimore, at the stadium yesterday with his son, two godsons and a friend of theirs. "When you win a Super Bowl, you get a lot more attention, a lot more hype. I wasn't living here when they won the Super Bowl, but I was puffing out my chest and saying, 'Baltimore!' The whole city feels that.

"But we haven't won a World Series in so long," he continued. "You can't help but to lose that interest."

And Montgomery, who grew up on 32nd Street, was once a regular patron of Memorial Stadium, with a collection of balls from behind the outfield fence.

Andra Rosenberger of Baltimore did attend the Orioles' event. Yesterday at the stadium she, her 6-year-old son, her brother Bill and his two daughters could barely sit still. All profess to be huge football fans and Ravens lovers, and they were thrilled at the mere sight of the field, the training camp-style drills, the player appearances and the entire atmosphere.

The Orioles' FanFest left Andra and son Colby less impressed: "It was good, but it seemed a little unorganized this year." Few, if any, complaints were heard about disorganization at the Ravens' event yesterday. The biggest problem at Orioles day, she said: whiffing on Miguel Tejada's autograph because the wait was just too long.

When reminded of the FanFest's original date, Rosenberger made her choice clear. "We would've been here," she said, pointing to her seat.

Her brother, however, wore an Orioles visor. There was some residual loyalty there, right? "It's just a hat," he said.

The more the FanFest patrons talked, the more it appeared that the disconnect with the Orioles was rooted partly in perception, and the remaining fondness rooted in the past. The overriding theme was that the Ravens do things right and the Orioles don't. Even those who said the Ravens felt more a part of the city and the community couldn't specifically put a finger on why it felt that way.

However, the plunge in interest in the Orioles is real and measurable, just as the plunge in wins is. Fan after fan spoke of how he or she "used to" go to Orioles games, and the steady drop in attendance the past decade came to life.

Ben Gordon of Clarksville, at the stadium with his wife, Stephanie, and their son and infant daughter, all dressed in purple, said he gave up on the Orioles "the day [Mike] Mussina left. ... I'll go to a Nationals game before I go [see the Orioles] again." However, he takes the kids to Ravens training camp every year.

Stephanie keeps the orange-and-black faith: "It's how I grew up."

Lonnie Smith of Baltimore said he roots for every local team, but while he has Ravens season tickets in the 500 level, he gave up his seats at Camden Yards after 1999.

"It's nothing against them, but it just seems like the owner is ruining it, took a cash cow and just ruined it," Smith said. And no, he hasn't attended a FanFest and had no plans to.

"There's something about the Orioles now. I don't know what it is, but something's missing," Montgomery said.

It seemed elusive. It also seemed as easy to find as the win-loss records.

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