Ravens training camp might stay in Owings Mills

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens are involved in negotiations with McDaniel College officials about returning training camp to the Westminster campus, but the early indication is that the team will continue to hold summer practices at the team's facility in Owings Mills.

The Ravens didn't have training camp at McDaniel this past summer for the first time since 1996 because of the owners' lockout, and that probably was the beginning of the end.

The Ravens may attempt to pacify college officials in other ways during the negotiations, but those hot, summer days when thousands of folks drove to Westminster just to get a peek of the team appear to be over.

The Ravens have financial concerns. They have to move their offices, equipment, weight and training rooms to McDaniel, and that costs money. I don't know the exact costs, but we can assume that some of it is offset by the corporate sponsorship displayed around the practice fields in Westminster.

The Ravens will also cite convenience. Why do they want to deal with temporary conditions when everything they need is right there in Owings Mills?

I understand their points. I also know that head coaches are control freaks, and John Harbaugh is no different. He can keep his eye on everything in Owings Mills instead of having to use makeshift conditions and go back and forth from the practice fields to the hotels. At Owings Mills, everything can be done inside The Castle.

Once the Ravens announced there would be no training camp in Westminster earlier this year, you sensed this might be the end. Times change, and so do finances, but I remember the first couple of training camps in Westminster.

Back then, the Ravens were trying to recapture some of the glory from the old Colts who trained at what was then known as Western Maryland College. The Ravens wanted to salvage that pipeline.

Baltimore fans were initially lukewarm to the Ravens, some still feeling ashamed by the similar methods with which Indianapolis took the Colts from Baltimore and Baltimore took the Browns from Cleveland.

The Ravens did everything they could to get the community involved and practically begged fans to come to camp. But it's a different game now because the Ravens are the top draw in Baltimore. If they want to alienate a few thousand, maybe even as many as 10,000 fans, so be it.

But I'm not sure top Ravens officials really understand the bond between a city, especially this one, and training camp. Some fans can't buy season tickets and tailgate on Sundays. But most of them can make the drive to training camp because it's free and allows them to get an up-close look at the players.

Families pack lunches and spend an entire day at Westminster watching two-a-day practices in extremely humid conditions. Fans come and cheer, and they scream at every reception as if it was a game-breaking moment, and every long run as if it was a jaunt to the Super Bowl title.

It was always exciting watching Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis come down off the hill to the field, or former coach Brian Billick signal the horn to be blown on the first day of training camp.

The Ravens did a great job of marketing the event. They would bring in numerous charity organizations and had a section for young children and handicapped kids to wait in for autographs. It was always interesting to see which players hung around the longest after practice to sign, and the Ravens were always hospitable, even despite the oppressive heat.

But all of that is about to be gone soon. I'm sure the Ravens will have some practices at M&T Bank Stadium opened to the public. Maybe they'll even transport in some non-profit organizations to The Castle to watch practice.

But it won't be the same. Training camp has always been about building relationships, not just among the players, but within the community as well. About 16 years ago, the Ravens nurtured fans here because they wanted to become an integral part of the city.

And now that they have, they want some space. Because of the numerous minicamps, more and more teams have gotten away from the old training-camp format. In fact, the only reason to continue to have one was for the fans.

And that's not high on the priority list anymore.

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