For decades, football fans in the Charm City area have been able to watch their team hold training camp practices that have been open to the public.
The die-hards, the locals, the fans that have been unable to watch regular season games in person because of cost or scheduling issues, they all could watch training camp up close and interact with their favorite players face-to-face.
This tradition dates all the way back to 1953, when the then-Baltimore Colts conducted training camp at Western Maryland College in Westminster, Md.
Now, that tradition will come to an end.
The Ravens announced yesterday that they will hold training camp at their Owings Mills complex going forward, meaning the days of daily practices being open to the public are over.
The Owings Mills complex, while massive, cannot accommodate the large crowds that were consistently present in Westminster, where the Ravens drew over 100,000 fans over the course of a full camp.
And that’s a shame.
The players and coaches loved holding practices in front of fans and having that interaction with those that support the team so passionately. The organization loved that it was able to make the city of Westminster the hub of Ravens football for a month every year, boosting the local economy and positively impacting the community in the process.
But while those factors were important to Ravens officials, their number one goal is always to have their team as prepared for the regular season as it can possibly be. And going forward, they feel they can best prepare for the season if they hold camp in Owings Mills.
In many ways, the Ravens had outgrown what McDaniel College and the Best Western hotel (which housed all players, coaches and football operations) could offer.
At their Owings Mills headquarters, the Ravens have three top-of-the-line outdoor fields and one indoor turf field, which they can quickly move to during summer storms or poor weather conditions. They have plenty of space to hold team meetings, position meetings and watch tape. They have a state-of-the-art weight room and training facilities.
No longer will the team have to hold practice in a gym when it starts raining, or have position meetings in a hotel room, or use medical facilities intended for a Division III college to care for an NFL team of 90 players.
In addition, now that the new collective bargaining agreement limits teams to just one practice a day, the Ravens wouldn’t be able to maximize the experience in Westminster, as they could when they held two-a-days in previous years.
Ravens officials are well-aware that this decision won’t sit well with a large portion of their fan base. They’re prepared for some backlash from fans and businesses in Westminster, but have said they’re committed to providing a minimum of three practices each camp that are open to the public, and are looking into other community activities that include access to players and coaches.
In the eyes of the Ravens’ brass, this was a very tough call, but one which had to be made.