Citing schedule conflicts, Ravens decline invitation to take part in O's Opening Day

Orioles fans stood and applauded Friday as an image of Joe Flacco hoisting the Lombardi Trophy flashed on the video board at Camden Yards, part of an Opening Day tribute to the Super Bowl champion Ravens.

But the friendly public moment belied a bit of unseen intrigue as several members of the Ravens organization, citing scheduling conflicts, declined to be on hand for the pregame ceremonies.

The absence of a Ravens representative followed a recent standoff between NFL and Major League Baseball officials over scheduling of the Ravens' opener, which became a road game because of conflicts with an Orioles home date.

A Ravens spokesman confirmed that the Orioles invited several people in the Ravens organization to participate in Opening Day ceremonies.

"However, due to conflicts of schedule and prior commitments for each person, unfortunately, today didn't work out," said the spokesman, Patrick Gleason, in an email. "It was determined that those invited would try to reschedule an opportunity to attend a different game this season."

Orioles spokesman Greg Bader declined to comment other than to say the club wanted to honor the Ravens in some fashion.

In lieu of having anyone throw out a first pitch, the Orioles simply laid a baseball by the pitching rubber in tribute to late manager Earl Weaver, who died in January.

Though both sides downplayed the issue, the absence of a Ravens representative on Opening Day is sure to fuel speculation of lingering bitterness between the organizations.

Last month, the Ravens asked the Orioles to shift the start time of a Sept. 5 home game against the Chicago White Sox so the Ravens could open the NFL season later that evening at M&T; Bank Stadium. The Orioles and Major League Baseball balked, saying the start time couldn't be moved because the Orioles and White Sox would both be traveling from other cities the previous night. The sides could not reach a compromise, and the Ravens will open on the road, unusual for the defending Super Bowl champion.

During negotiations, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he believed the Orioles could work out a compromise if they wished. But once the effort failed, Ravens officials said they appreciated the Orioles going "above and beyond" to search for a solution.

The Ravens did send footage so the Orioles could compose a video tribute to the Super Bowl champions, which played before team introductions Friday along with highlights from Michael Phelps' performance at last summer's Olympics.

Gleason also noted that numerous Ravens employees planned to attend Opening Day with family members and friends. "Going on several years now, it's become an annual tradition for Ravens staffers to attend Opening Day to support the Orioles," he said.

If there's any tension, it does not reach to the Orioles clubhouse, where many players consider themselves Ravens fans. When both teams were active last fall, Orioles players delighted in attending games at M&T; Bank Stadium, where they received loud ovations anytime they appeared on the video boards. Outfielder Adam Jones traveled to watch the Ravens throughout the NFL playoffs.

Manager Buck Showalter spoke Friday of his admiration for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh. "You know when you're around guys like that, you see that things don't happen just by chance," he said, reflecting on past visits with the football team's brain trust.

"I'm real proud of them," Showalter said of the Ravens. "I'm proud to be in a city that they're a part of. The Ravens mean a lot to Baltimore, and we've got a long way to go to get to that level of trust that the fans have with the Ravens."

Fans also downplayed any potential conflict, with some wearing both purple and orange to Opening Day.

"What I sense is more disappointment on the fans' part that the Ravens can't do what other Super Bowl winners have done," said Michael Camiel, 59, of Lutherville. "But in terms of tension between the two organizations, not really. I still remember going to the Ravens game last season and seeing some of the Orioles up in the skybox and the Ravens putting Orioles scores on the scoreboard."

Despite the warm words, the scheduling conflict was not the first uncomfortable interaction between the organizations.

Last year, just an hour before the first pitch of the Orioles' opener, the Ravens posted a picture of an empty M&T; Bank Stadium on Facebook with the slogan: "Raise your hand if you'd rather be cheering in THIS stadium than a baseball stadium today!"

The Ravens quickly removed the post and apologized.

The Orioles were the big brother in the relationship when the Ravens arrived in 1996, a time when the baseball club was in the postseason and regularly attracting more than 3 million fans to Camden Yards.

But the dynamic changed after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001 and the Orioles fell into a 14-year streak of losing seasons. Fans routinely joked about turning their attention to the Ravens come July, when the Orioles had invariably fallen out of contention.

The relationship finally balanced out last season, when fans around the city blended purple and orange in their wardrobes as both teams surged to the playoffs.

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