With CFL game, stadium reopens for business BY ANY NAME, FOOTBALL'S BACK

June 29, 1994|By Ken Murray and Melody Simmons | Ken Murray and Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writers

The first time Jearld Baylis saw Memorial Stadium, he saw peeling paint, rotting wood and broken glass. What he saw was the remnants of an abandoned building.

That was in April, when Mr. Baylis signed a three-year contract to play nose tackle for Baltimore's Canadian Football League team.

Yesterday, he saw a different Memorial Stadium.

"It was pretty homely in decay," Mr. Baylis said, gazing at the refurbished structure. "Now, it's 10 million times better. By being more up-to-date, by things being taken care of, some of that mystique comes out. When I first walked in here, you could see the history. But it was dead. Now, it's back."

After a 10-year hiatus, so is professional football. Tonight's 7:30 exhibition between the suddenly nameless Baltimore expansion team and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers marks the first time since Dec. 18, 1983, that a Baltimore pro football team will play at the stadium.

Dressed up in a fresh coat of blue and gray paint, 40-year-old Memorial Stadium was resplendent in its new look yesterday. The Kentucky bluegrass turf was lush and green, the CFL's longer, wider field marked off in white. The end zones were covered in blue and gray paint, with one peculiar distinction.

Where it should have said "Baltimore Colts," the logo in the end zone read only "Baltimore," a concession to the team's setback in federal court in Indianapolis Monday night, when it was temporarily stripped of its nickname.

Inside the stadium, switchboard operator Twana Miller answeredphone calls with "Good morning, Baltimore CFL football club." And the merchandise store that usually fielded a steady stream of business had drawn its blinds and closed up shop.

In a sense, the old NFL Colts will be back tonight. Jim Speros, owner of the CFL team, said he is honoring some 65 former Colts -- including John Unitas, Lenny Moore and Art Donovan -- with Alumni Night. They'll be introduced at halftime in their old Colts jerseys, much as they were two years ago, when Memorial Stadium was host to an NFL preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.

"This is certainly all my dreams come true," Mr. Speros said. "Four months passed very quickly. Ever since I had the vision of bringing football back, this is what I've been waiting for. And even though this game does not count, it's more than a dry run in my book. It's the first chance for people at home to see our football team."

Mr. Speros said he expects a crowd of 30,000 for the revival at Memorial Stadium, which now seats 52,000 for football.

"This old girl is getting a new life," said Jeff Barrett, a city parks department worker who has spent nearly a month on the 33rd Street project.

In the neighborhood surrounding the stadium, the return of pro football has sparked mixed feelings.

"It will be an esprit de corps for the city," said Chris Brock, who has lived in an Ednor Gardens rowhouse opposite the stadium for three years. "It will bring some new enthusiasm and wake them up a bit here. That stadium has just been sitting there."

Sally Patterson, who has lived near the stadium since she was born 42 years ago, said she can't wait for the kickoff. "We are ecstatic," she said. "My mother and I were heartbroken when the Orioles left. We enjoyed all of the hustle and bustle and felt deserted when they left us. With the Colts coming back -- and I'm going to say Colts and I don't care what the NFL says -- we really feel like life is coming back to this area. This is a football town."

Delores Lewis, who lives nearby, is not so welcoming. Bedridden with cancer, Ms. Lewis expects the crowds and the noise of the sound system to disturb her.

"The new rap music plays so loud that, with the acoustics, all you hear is 'boom, boom, boom,' " she said of past games at the stadium.

"It gets so loud that the pictures move. We don't go over there [to games], and we never have a place to park. We've lived here 23 years and have had people banging on the door offering us $20 to park."

What residents can expect to see is a throwback to the blue-collar crowds that used to attend Colts games, not the tasseled-loafer look of baseball at Camden Yards.

Bill Cunningham, 3rd District city councilman and advocate of bringing the CFL to Memorial Stadium, said the CFL suits the situation.

"I think the football will be well-received," he said. "I think it's a Baltimore-type game. People have proven in the past they like football, and have shown no interest in someone else's team. From what I've seen, it's more of a traditional, Baltimore, blue-collar, ice hockey crowd that will be at the games. And it seems to be reasonably affordable."

Ticket prices range from $14 to $25, with $9 student tickets and discounts available.

Businesses along Greenmount Avenue in Waverly also are gearing up. At the Original Stadium Lounge yesterday morning, a beer truck made a timely delivery.

Inside, bartender Colleen Connelly said the establishment plans to honor the CFL by starting to sell its famous 1-pound ham-and-cheese sandwiches again.

"We are stocking up," Ms. Connelly said. "Hopefully, we'll be busy with football coming back."

Next door at the A-1 Sub Shop, owner John Jones said he doesn't expect business to pick up with the CFL. "We are doing nothing special," he said. "When the Orioles played there, we didn't get that much business, and the Orioles had a much larger crowd than the CFL will."

Tonight will be a time to remember the old and celebrate the new. As city workers put the finishing touches on the stadium yesterday, Gordon Goetz, manager of Memorial Stadium, glimpsed the future.

"This place has turned around 180 degrees," he said.

"It's good for the community and for people who like football. It will also pump money into the surrounding areas and create jobs for ushers and ticket takers. The place would be a white elephant if not for this."

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