Those early morning days of late July in Westminster, MD were special. The sunlight felt a little lazier just after dawn – the dew in the grass a bit heavier and the feeling of change surrounded us.
This was training camp at McDaniel College.
The morning included a round of golf followed by lunch at Baugher’s. From there it was off to Ravens training camp where thousands of fans convened with great anticipation for the coming season.
It was Americana at its finest.
Concession stands and games for children dominated the parking lot and courtyard immediately adjacent to the primary field and directly behind the grandstands. Every noteworthy play was cheered and a long toss for a touchdown inspired a thunderous applause.
That changed for me when our website added a Ravens talk show on ESPN 1300 as part of our Ravens coverage. GAMETIME wasn’t about ego or about someone becoming a star. Our show was about information – getting the right information to the fans. No one cared who delivered it. We only cared that it was delivered.
We knew what fans wanted because we were one of them.
The show also provided access to the team that we never enjoyed before. No longer did we cover the Ravens from the grandstands. Instead I was along the sidelines during practice and around the podium for interviews after practice.
We became part of the developing new media.
Initially it was strange to be inside the ropes and so close to the players. I always brought along a towel to kneel on so that I wouldn’t block the view of the fans behind me. I was the only “media member” who seemed to care about that but then again, I was and still am just a fan with access.
During those Brian Billick orchestrated training camps access was a bit easier. We could go pretty much anywhere we wanted on either of the primary fields provided we remained on the far side of the painted yellow line that bordered sidelines from 5 yards away.
The mood during camp began to change when John Harbaugh took over for Billick during the 2008 season. Media freedoms eroded and more controls seeped in. But we could still creep up to within 5 yards of the sideline and I still had my trusty little towel to kneel upon.
With the advent of new smartphones texting became easier. Then along came Twitter. In an effort to give fans not in attendance more access to what was happening on the field I would Tweet about the action on the field and in between Tweets, I’d record other observations to later compile our Camp Notes.
One morning while doing exactly that with notepad, pen and smartphone in hand, Mark Clayton ran an out route a few yards to my left. The Joe Flacco pass sailed and was heading right towards me.
Cupping my phone in my left hand while holding pen and pad in the other I somehow corralled the pass as the point of the tight spiraling ball hit my left pec.
It left a mark but in my mind, it was a completed pass. Lombardi, No. 247, on the receiving end of a laser from Flacco.
That lucky grab is a memory that will always stay with me.
Those fields of McDaniel provided many memories.
Unfortunately that slice of Americana here in the Land of Pleasant Living is a thing of our past. Today I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make that catch of self-defense. We can no longer get as close. We can no longer kneel and cell phone usage and Tweeting are no longer allowed near the fields.
More disheartening is the absence of thousands of fans who really provided the canvas upon which these summer practices were painted.
The move is understandable given the limitations on practices that are part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams must make the most efficient use of their time with the players during training camp and given the landscape of McDaniel, the headquarters in Owings Mills are just much more conducive for efficiency.
Things change, and sometimes change even if for the better triggers collateral damage.
And in the case of Ravens training camp, unfortunately it’s the fans who are left wounded.