So, to say they will be closed off entirely would not be correct. There is something missing all the same, and I am sure that the Ravens know it. Fans who have made part of their summer tradition going to see the aspiring hopefuls and returning veterans getting ready for the year certainly know it.
I remember going to my first Ravens training camp practice in the summer of 1997. The Orioles, my first sporting love in this city, had not yet sunk into the oblivion of the last decade and a half, and the Ravens – and football in general – were more of a curiosity to me than anything. I was 13 years old, it was hot, and it was awesome.
As funny as it sounds, the most memorable thing about the whole day for me was a couple of punters. The field cleared out as they prepared to take their kicks, it was early and quiet and you could just hear the BOOM of every kick off the foot as the football soared impossibly high into the air and far down the field. Perhaps this impressed me as a young soccer player, because in games against kids my age I had never seen kicks like that.
Other drills that stand out include the defensive linemen attacking those sleds with the dummies on them to practice their moves, and wide receivers running routes and catching balls. Even as a 13 year old kid who knew nothing about football, it was pretty easy to tell who was going to make the team and who wasn’t. The guys who would make the team were stronger and faster and they could actually catch the ball, most of the time. When you’re as close to the field as you could get at Western Maryland/McDaniel, it’s all pretty exciting stuff, even these mundane routines.
Not to be forgotten for any kid is the chance to get autographs. To this day in my life I have never gotten a baseball player’s autograph, and I’m too old for it now so I probably never will. Every kid who was there stood pressed against a fence where the players would walk past to leave the field. I ended up in that mass with a hat and a Sharpie and I held them out for whoever went by.
I must have ended up with 15 autographs without even trying. I still have that hat somewhere. Most of the people who signed were guys who ended up not making the team, but there were two I was excited to have gotten. One was Vinny Testaverde, who must have signed a thousand autographs that day and did so with infinite patience. Everyone wanted his autograph, of course – even I, being a football novice, knew then that the quarterback was a big deal.
The other was one of those punters, who looked surprised to be asked for an autograph. I don’t even remember if it was the punter who made the team or the one who got cut, but the signature is on that hat all the same.
This was the day in and day out of Ravens training camp from 1996 until 2010, and for building and maintaining a connection with fans it could not be beaten. It seems now they feel they do not need to do that any more, and perhaps they are right. It’s an unfortunate decision all the same. Hopefully the Ravens realize this in time to fix things for next year and into the future.