That "Grand Old Lady," known in a venerable sporting way as Memorial Stadium, never looked better. She's on her feet and breathing. A coat of paint, 90,000 gallons of it, all blue and white, has been a reawakening to an edifice, thought to be in retirement, that again has a future.
The Baltimore CFL Colts made it possible.
It tells all of us how important it is that even stadiums, the same as houses, need to be lived in, not abandoned and left to stand unused. The stadium will house the Canadian Football League team for a homecoming exhibition June 29 and the official opener July 16.
Team owner Jim Speros also has a date in Hamilton, Ont., on July 11, to offer additional facts in his attempt to acquire the 1996 Grey Cup championship for Baltimore. He expects Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer to accompany him on the mission. Speros explains the CFL must be guaranteed $3.1 million for what he says is an attraction that will provide a strong economic impact on the area.
If it happens, and he "feels confident we are going to get it," the event will mark the first time it has ever been scheduled outside the Dominion since its inception in 1909. Yes, the CFL does have history. It has been operating for 101 years, which means it preceded the National Football League by a quarter of a century.
The money to put Memorial Stadium in appropriate condition has, in the main, come from a loan by the city for $500,000 and a similar amount promised by the state that won't be available until September. Speros says the funds must be paid back by June of 1998.
He earlier thought he had an arrangement with a concessionaire, ARA, but Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, with eyes only for an NFL franchise, knocked him out of the box by going to a pressure defense. "That's a David and Goliath situation, the Orioles against us," said Speros. "Actually, the new concession company, Fine Host, gave us a better deal than what we had so Mr. Angelos helped us."
Twenty-three concession stands have been readied, including new grills, icemakers and other equipment necessary for food storing and serving. The blue and white face the stadium now has includes walkways, ramps and all the seats. It's eye-appealing and makes you wonder why such a color scheme wasn't utilized in the past.
The wider and longer field has been a tight fit but it's going to work. The baseball infield has been covered with sod. It has meshed well with the rest of the turf. There's a uniformed appearance to the surface and those involved in the effort have reason to take pride in what has been accomplished. The condition of the grass is spectacular.
Yet there's still more to do. Speros is thankful for the cooperation he has received from the business community. "Bruning Paint Co. gave us 90,000 gallons of blue and white paint," he noted. "That's a significant contribution. We'll pay them back with advertising exposure. The paint brightened up this place."
The team's offices, once used by the Orioles, are newly furnished. There's enough room for the 33 full-time employees to operate in almost luxurious comfort. Not many sports franchises have a better arrangement, made possible by the fact the Orioles insisted it be built before they moved downtown to a new park.
As for the season ticket total, Speros places the number at 26,000.
The training camp at Towson State University, including the practice surfaces, dormitories and food, has been ideal. So have the early June temperatures, which, for the most part, have felt more like Edmonton than Baltimore.
The Towson administration preferred having the CFL Colts there and didn't want to see them go to UMBC, which also hoped to serve as training camp host. As of July 3, the team moves out to begin the regular season, probably drilling at Eastern High, across from the stadium, on a field that needs attention.
Speros insists that, if contested, "I'll fight to the end on retaining the Colts' name," which presumably means going all the way to the Supreme Court.
"I hear NFL owners are saying all the lawsuit to prevent us from having the name is doing is giving the CFL a lot of favorable publicity. I believe Bob Irsay has been the driving force to try to keep us from using it. But I also feel the league didn't think I could last."
The stadium is ready to welcome football. To such an extent that Speros wants to welcome the high school all-star game, the Chesapeake Classic, Maryland vs. Northern Virginia, to switch from Byrd Stadium on July 24. Morgan State may also play Grambling there on Sept. 17.
Without Memorial Stadium being recycled and made available by Mayor Schmoke, who has a feel for football since he played it, none of this resurgence could have happened. The crucial test is to wait and watch to see if the CFL is accepted.