Ravens roost in Westminster, and fans flock behind them

The Baltimore Sun

For the past four years, McDaniel College student Mat Fields has left his off-campus apartment at 8 a.m. on the first day of Ravens training camp.

Every year, Fields, a Towson native, grabs his purple Ray Lewis jersey out of the closet and a football for autographs and heads to camp to see the first day of the three-week training camp.

Despite the heat and humidity last week, this year was no different for Fields.

He and his friend, Mark Jordan, made the two-mile walk Monday to see what the Ravens had to offer this year at the 12th consecutive Baltimore Ravens training camp at McDaniel. The Ravens had returned to McDaniel College, and the fans were not far behind.

The city of Westminster also welcomed the start of Ravenstown.

For merchants, restaurants and gas stations, Ravenstown brings in a lot of out-of-town business.

"Having training camp here really draws attention to the city," said Stan Ruchlewicz, the city's administrator of economic development, "Whenever they do a news report or say something about Ravens camp, the name of our city is plastered all over the television. So it's good public relations for us. We are always glad they are here."

The city might benefit from the publicity and sales, but the Ravens also bring a group spirit and togetherness to the Westminster community.

"Everywhere you go around here, the city has Ravens flags and merchandise," Ruchlewicz said. "Every merchant has some sort of 'Welcome Back Ravens' sign in their window and purple and black balloons are out as well. The city of Westminster becomes a purple and black place."

Along with the new year comes some new fan favorites, including former Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee.

Jordan said he hadn't been to training camp since former Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac played, but the addition of McGahee caught his attention for this year's camp.

"Willis McGahee should really step our game up," Jordan said. "He should really help out our running game this season and add something to our team. Hopefully, I can get his autograph and watch him play with the team a little bit. I'm excited about that."

Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are still among the fans "most wanted" list.

Fields said his favorite player to watch at camp is Lewis. When asked why, he said, "He's Ray Lewis, who doesn't like him? He plays like a beast."

Finksburg resident Tim Henn and his nephew, Ryan Reely, 18, are no strangers to watching Lewis and company practice at training camp. Henn said he has attended training camp every year since the team moved to Baltimore from Cleveland for the 1996 season.

He said he came this year to support the Ravens and see what to expect from the team this fall.

"After the heartache of last year's Colts game, my expectations are still high," Henn said. "It was good to see everyone show up at this year's start of practice. This is like the beginning of a new year. You just look at all the optimism, the future, and what new things the year will bring."

The start of training camp has become a ritual for some supporters such as Henn and Reely, but for Baltimore residents Dane Geier and his daughter, Lauren, 13, this was their first time experiencing training camp.

"We wanted to come because this would be our first experience being around the NFL players and just enjoying the training camp scenery," Dane Geier said. "We really just want to interact with their players. The things we don't get to do during the season."

Throughout training camp, Ravens fans get a chance to talk with the players and ask for autographs before and after practice.

Brooke Murray of Owings Mills and her father, Tom Maynerd, said that is one of the reasons why they visited training camp this year.

"You know this is the only time you will be able to see them like this because you know if you go to a game and your seats aren't close, the players look pretty small out there," Maynerd said. "This gives you a more of a human take on the players."

Last year, the Ravens finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, which was a vast improvement from their 6-10 in 2005. The Ravens won the AFC North division, but their season ended with a playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Indianapolis Colts.

"I think it's more of a spiritual thing coming here," Henn said. "You just grasp the hope of the season, and you forget last year. It gives people enthusiasm for what's to come. We're really ready for this season."


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