It’s football season in Baltimore, although the action is taking place 40 miles north of the city in Westminster for the next few weeks.
I ventured out to training camp today, my second journey this week out Rt. 140.
Today was the first REAL day of the camp, with the veterans in the house, the crowd swelling to nearly 11,000 (insert your baseball attendance joke here — I refuse to do it) and enthusiasm and excitement as thick as the humid Friday afternoon.
And once again, in the 80 minutes or so I spent out there, I realized why it is that I enjoy football so much and, in particular, covering the Ravens.
Team executives are friendly. They’re not batting 1.000, mind you…they have their occasional stuffy personality and the girl in the golf cart could be a little less snobby and a tad more accomodating. But on the whole, folks with the staff badge around their neck are solid professionals and good people.
They’re happy to see you out there. They – gasp! – even tell you that.
Unlike the baseball team, who literally make attempts to inconvenience you, the football staffers do whatever they can in their power to assist you.
That’s how the team/media relationship is supposed to work.
It works that way for the football team because they’re good people. It doesn’t work that way at Camden Yards. And, in an “every dog has his day” kinda way, that’s why they are what they are at OPACY: a last place team.
As for the players, take a wild guess who spent the most time signing the most autographs today?
Just say “Ray Lewis” and get it over with.
#52 took roughly 35 minutes at the end of the morning practice to go down the line and sign for anyone he could. Yeah, it’s a little over-the-top to hear him reference the fans as “my people” time and time again in interviews. I hear him say “my city” and I wonder, “Really? If so, can you fix the crime problem?”
But then I watch him work the autograph line and touch the folks who are out there watching the first day of camp and it sinks in that those ARE “his people”. I watch Ray do his thing after practice and I see the genuine happiness he shares with the fans and it makes me appreciate what he’s done for “my city” since 1996.
Frankly, Baltimore IS Ray’s city.
Right now, in 2009, he’s still the city’s most beloved active sports figure. Someday soon – when Ray is gone – Joe Flacco is going to own the town if he plays his cards right.
But today, in Westminster, it only took a half hour or so for me to be reminded of how much people love Ray Lewis.
And Ray didn’t big-league any of them. He smiled, he shook hands, he gave high-fives, he kissed a baby or two and he signed for as many people as he could. I’m not naive — I don’t suspect Ray will do that EVERY day during camp. None of them do.
But I know this — he put in the most work today, that’s for sure.
One other interesting thing happened today.
Jarrett Johnson talked “live” on WNST Radio during the 12 noon hour with Bob Haynie. Ray Rice talked to one of the other sports shows in town while they still had local programming (before switching over to national talk to get you caught up on last night’s big game in the National League West). I saw Comcast SportsNet’s Brent Harris talking to Paul Kruger. Haloti Ngata was doing an interview with another local radio voice in town.
Get the picture?
Unlike the baseball team in town, and their restrictive, INSANE policy of not allowing their players to speak “live” on the air, the football team WANTS that kind of coverage.
They actually help corral the players as they come off the field and lead them to their respective media member for the interview.
Everywhere you looked today, members of the Baltimore and national media were in place…talking football…with players.
It’s a small but very symbolic difference between our two sports franchises.
One embraces the community.
The other fights with the community.
One has been winning this decade.
One has been losing.
And here’s the key point of it all: When the team that’s been winning has a down year, they still treat people with the same amount of respect and professionalism.
It all came back to me today when I was on the field during practice.
People in this city love the freakin’ Ravens. And the Ravens love them back.
It’s not a difficult concept to embrace, actually.