Ravens fans get first taste Complaints, praise fill air as followers get stadium preview

Stadium Watch

July 31, 1998|By Sandra McKee and Alec Klein | Sandra McKee and Alec Klein,SUN STAFF Eduardo A. Encina and Ryan Basen contributed to this article.

It was a faux night. The opening night at the new NFL stadium at Camden Yards wasn't the real thing. It was a dry run. A practice during a Ravens practice.

It was a chance for everyone to map a plan and plan a map for Aug. 8, when the Ravens play host to the Chicago Bears in their first preseason game, and for Sept. 6, when Opening Day arrives for real with the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.

And 36,016 took advantage of the opportunity. But the first time is always the hardest.

There were elevator problems and sound-system problems. The concession stands ran out of hot food and one woman stumbled and fell outside Gate B. She was taken to Harbor Hospital Center for X-rays for a possible broken hip.

Out on the street, Baltimore police officer James Stevens, sweating in the July swelter, held a Ravens map in one hand and tried to direct traffic with the other.

"It's pretty bad for here," said Stevens, standing at the corner of Ostend Street and a service road outside the stadium.

He, like most everyone else, was unfamiliar with the area.

"It needs a little work," he said, laughing, as he and his fellow officers dealt with the endless questions from motorists in the logjam: "Where is M parking lot? How far is parking? Looking for Lot F. Which way to Lot E?"

A motorist, Wanda Redd, a 42-year-old resident of downtown Baltimore, sat in her '93 Nissan Sentra with her window rolled down, a look of exasperation on her face.

"I'm going to the doctor," she said. "What's going on?"

She, like other motorists -- many of whom were simply trying to go home from work -- had been caught in traffic for 45 minutes from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Ostend.

Joe Tiberi, a 49-year-old Baltimore County resident, looked calm in the face of the gridlock.

"Pretty tough," he said. "We were used to it [traffic] with all the years with the Colts. [Now] it's a little tougher. We'll get accustomed to it."

Inside the stadium, fans were already getting used to their new digs. Most of them loved their seats.

"You're right down on the field," said Gene Borrego, 52, of Columbia. "At Memorial Stadium, you're 30 yards away. You never saw anything. This [giant] scoreboard, this stadium is definitely built for the spectators."

In the upper deck, way up there in the ozone, David Damsgaard, 29, of Baltimore looked down on the field without fear.

"The scoreboard [at the other end of the field] is excellent," he said. "It's so big. It seems you're so far away, but the scoreboard keeps you in the game."

A little farther down, where the railing rings the upper level, a railing intended to prevent anyone from pitching forward, there were complaints.

"The railing is too high," said Bill Gilmer, 49, of Bethesda. "It blocks my view. I have to stand up or lean forward. I can't lean back in my seat."

Another railbird, Charles McCloud, 33, of Rising Sun, said he could live with the railings, but he had another problem.

"When I bought these seats, I was told they would be in the first row," McCloud said. "Now, they've put another row of seats in front of me. They told me they were temporary. Now, they say they're permanent and they'll be available on a game-to-game basis. I bought a seat license. Now, people who buy game-to-game will be able to sit in front of me. I'm not happy."

In the suites, there was disappointment over not having an outdoor walkway. Pamela Jones, 48, of Washington, thought the sound system was too loud and that there was a need for volume control, while Bill Leahy, 30, of Annapolis said, "Crank it up. If people can't handle it, they should get out."

Leahy was also disappointed that he had to leave the suite and climb to the upper deck to smoke. "Paying this money," he said, "I should be able to grab a smoke without missing half the game."

At the concession stands, lines weaved across the expansive corridors. Menus were limited -- hot dogs, popcorn, soft pretzels, beer and soda. The hot food began running out shortly after 7 p.m., less than an hour after the doors were open.

As people stood in lines for as long as a half hour, they had plenty of time to look around.

"Look at this place," said Steve Markey, 34, of Joppatowne. "This is ugly stuff. I mean, it's galvanized ugly. Plain tin. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's not finished yet."

Behind him, Neill Mitchell looked around.

"They could stage 'West Side Story' in here," he said. "It does look kind of like a back alley. Well, when you spend the kind of money they did, you get held to a new standard."

In another line, Baltimorean Allan Greenberg said he thought the place "beautiful" and his friend, M. Jaimille Buster, also of Baltimore, shrugged when asked about the decor.

"This is the gridiron," he said. "What do people expect? Not flowers, I hope."

Not flowers, but more than best wishes.

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