In my pieces about bandwagon fans earlier in the week, I wrote about various teams such as the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Steelers that have a lot of bandwagon fans. All of those organizations also have what we call national fan bases. You can go to any stadium around the country and see someone wearing a Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Dallas Cowboys hat. That aside, when I travel I’m always interested in seeing how the teams from my home region are perceived around the country.
No Baltimore or mid-Atlantic team has what you might call a national following. However depending upon where you go you’ll find mixed results in a sense. Obviously if you go to Cleveland you won’t find many people with any love for the Ravens. It also matters which sport we’re talking about. When it comes to baseball most people are very sympathetic to Baltimore fans. One of the best trips I ever took was to Fenway in 2009 to see the Orioles play. Most of the Red Sox fans were very welcoming, and a lot of them told me that they hoped to see things looking up soon for the Orioles. And I’ve seen that kind of empathy towards the O’s in most places I’ve gone, including the southwest and Colorado. Players such as Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken to this day have bought the Orioles a great deal of goodwill. I spoke with one fan in Denver during a trip out there who told me that he had never really followed baseball until he started paying attention to Cal’s streak, and when he found out that Denver had a team he became a fan. Occasionally you’ll find some sneering Yankee fan that’ll just laugh at the Orioles, but that happens across the board.
With the Ravens it’s a little different. Baltimore’s plight of losing the Colts and not having a team for so long still makes people very sympathetic. That, combined with the legends of Johnny Unitas generally makes people look approvingly on the Ravens. However there’s no doubt that Ray Lewis’ brush with the law and subsequent murder charge has taken its toll on the Ravens’ reputation. While I do understand that kind of mentality, I also have to call it into question. The fact is that Lewis was exonerated of the charges. However, there’s a certain stigma that comes with a murder charge that never goes away; I understand that. But doesn’t mean that the Ravens are a bad or thuggish organization? I would say that if you feel that way you should dislike the player, not the team.
Baltimore fans have a lot of bearing on how our teams are perceived. As Oriole fans, we’re unfortunately used to seeing out-of-town fans in our stadium. Speaking for myself, I’ve always thought that Boston fans were the worst of the bunch. (The visiting fans at Camden Yards that is; I’ve been to Fenway to see the Orioles play, and the fans there are some of the most accommodating and decent fans I’ve ever met.) Where do I begin?…I’ve seen Red Sox fans urinating in Oriole hats, Red Sox fans complaining that not enough Red Sox merchandise is sold in the stadium, Red Sox fans purposely getting Oriole fans tossed from the ballpark, and Red Sox fans booing an in-stadium feature on Cal Ripken while say that Yaz is the only #8 worth cheering for. Each time I’ve gone on the road with the Orioles, I’ve felt an obligation to be on my best behavior because I believe that in that situation I’m representative of the Orioles, the Oriole fans, and the city of Baltimore as a whole. So if I behave like a moron, people in that city are going to come away with a negative impression of all of us and our teams. Furthermore, if you need any more proof that the fans’ behavior counts towards what people think, look no further than Philadelphia fans.
All in all, in my opinion Baltimore teams have a decent reputation around the country. I haven’t been in every state or city, however I’ve seen a decent amount of places here in the USA, and I would say that Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. are the most high-profile Baltimore athletes. Johnny Unitas is up there as well, although I think that Baltimore not having football for so long probably puts him a notch below Brooks and Cal. It’s amazing where you meet like-minded people sometimes though. Last year I was walking through Milan’s Malpensa Airport waiting to board a flight to Paris (with Washington DC my ultimate destination that day). Since I was returning from a vacation at my family home in Italy, I decided to sport an Oriole polo shirt on the flight. Just as I’m getting in line to board the flight, this guy walks by me, raises his fist in the air and says, “Go O’s!”