Now that Baltimore's new downtown baseball park is in place, drawing crowds, creating excitement and stimulating the economy, it's time for the next step: Convincing the National Football League it should be a part of the same kind of a setting.
Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, has every intention of inviting commissioner Paul Tagliabue, his family and friends to Baltimore for a hands-on inspection. They can see it, touch it and imagine what the same community is prepared to do for the NFL any time it flashes the green light.
Members of the league's expansion committee, chosen to recommend which two cities from among Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis, Charlotte, Memphis, Jacksonville and Sacramento are awarded teams for 1994, would be overwhelmed with the location, construction and the rampant enthusiasm they would find.
It would show them Baltimore knows how to prepare, implement and complete a first-rate stadium project. No other city, among those extending bids, can make that claim. Then the NFL will be able to envision, with concrete and mortar proof, what Baltimore is capable of doing for one of its franchises. This, in turn, benefits the entire league.
That will get their attention. Belgrad had originally given thought to having Tagliabue and the NFL expansion delegation in Baltimore for Opening Day on April 6. "But I thought there would be so much going on with the ceremonies and other details," he explained, "that it wouldn't be appropriate to have them here as guests when you wouldn't be able to spend a relaxed time with them."
Correct. Along with providing the NFL luxury box seats at an Orioles game, there could be introductions to important members of the business community, plus visits to Little Italy, Fort McHenry, the World Trade Center, Caves Valley Golf Club, Babe Ruth's Birthplace, Edgar Allen Poe's grave, Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, Lexington Market, Washington Monument, Dundalk Marine Terminal and a yacht-tour of the Inner Harbor.
Included in the itinerary would be an updated inspection of Memorial Stadium -- where the echo never dies. The Colts Band, as a surprise, could be at parade rest, snap to attention and break into the old team fight song when the NFL visitors arrive. Imagine the impact such a reception would produce.
Tagliabue and associates also would be able to see the stadium is in better physical condition than when the Colts left in 1984. It's still standing and waiting to provide temporary housing for a football team until another companion facility, even larger and possibly domed, can be created on downtown property near where the Orioles play.
While other cities promise and make extravagant claims, jTC Baltimore can point to a ballpark that was funded by a unique lottery plan and is drawing a record acceptance from the public. The NFL always likes to get in on the action. And this will certainly draw their interest.
Looking at stadium diagrams, blueprints and models isn't anything new. But to actually have a ballpark in front of them, with teams on the field and paying spectators in the seats, will be something no other city can even begin to produce at this time. It will, in one glance, give Baltimore an edge on the other candidates.
For those owners who loathe baseball then they can be accommodated at the park on a date when the Orioles are on the road. But provide a lineup of non-stop entertainment and let them select what they want to do, such as playing golf, tennis, crabbing, fishing, pitching horseshoes. They could even meet or be reintroduced to John Unitas, the greatest quarterback of them all.
Whatever it takes to impress Tagliabue and the expansion committee ought to be done. And it should, by all means, be arranged before the NFL teams head for training camp. Possibly a trip to the Preakness, tied in with an inspection of the new ballpark, would be another appropriate way for Baltimore to "showcase" itself.
Baltimore has a natural advantage in the new park coming to reality that it needs to merely display -- not necessarily exploit -- for its own best interests.