The Ravens in writing Fanfare: Football lovers flock to training camp for a close-up look and, with a little luck, a few NTC autographs.

August 13, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

It's no surprise that felt-tip pens sell more briskly than bright purple baseball caps or jerseys at the Baltimore Ravens training camp souvenir shop at Western Maryland College.

If you're seeking the coveted autograph of quarterback Jim Harbaugh, you'll need some patience and some persistence. But most of all, it helps to have a pen that works.

Those pens have been especially busy in recent weeks as a steady crowd of autograph seekers and fans restless for the beginning of the season shows up daily in Westminster. Ravens officials estimate 500 to 1,000 fans visit each day. On weekends, the crowd climbs to 3,000 or more.

After each workout session, fans press against metal barriers and fight for the attention of the dozens of sweaty players shuffling off the field. They call the players by name. They whistle, hoot and holler.

Then, anything large enough to hold a signature might be thrust under a player's nose: seat pads, footballs, photographs, bits of note paper, T-shirts and towels.

Miles Ettinger, 29, leaned over the barrier last week with 5-year-old son Brad atop his shoulders, and asked for their football to be signed. Their efforts secured autographs from defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, linebacker Jamie Sharper and Harbaugh.

Ettinger drove an hour from his home in White Marsh to get a preseason look at Harbaugh's passing skills.

"I wanted to see what he could do," said Ettinger. "His arm impressed me."

The camp is a carnival of sorts. A small trailer does a brisk business in soft drinks, candy and ice cream and a series of obstacle courses and games offer distractions for younger fans.

Boys queue up to kick a football through an inflatable goal post. Toddlers climb through a purple obstacle course of rope ladders and tunnels. Future quarterbacks hurl footballs through hoops.

The spotlight recently has been on Ravens top draft pick Duane Starks, who arrived at camp after a 16-day holdout.

"It's nice to witness it on this scale," said Bob Martindale of Bel Air, who stood 15 feet from the edge of the field. "You are never this close. You get a different perspective and see the way they do things."

Martindale shook his head as he watched the players scrimmaging as the temperature creeped into the high 80s.

"They've got to be dying in those uniforms," he said.

Expecting a boost

The Ravens training camp, in its third year in Westminster, is expected to boost local business during the summer doldrums. Business owners along Main Street dressed up storefronts with Ravens posters and signs. The city placed welcoming signs on light posts, and a barbershop constructed a large raven that reaches out over the Main Street sidewalk.

L But some merchants say their efforts have gone unrecognized.

"I know the town has opened its arms to the Ravens," said Joe Markowitz, owner of Joe's Deli on Main Street.

A season-ticket holder, Markowitz spent several hundred dollars decorating his store with team photos, signs and posters. But, he said, the Ravens organization has ignored the town's efforts.

"I don't blame the coaches. I don't blame the players. They have a job to do," he said. "But why can't the PR people take a couple hours and drop by?"

Markowitz said the town should be given recognition.

"Bring it home. It's good for morale," he said.

Other merchants would like the Ravens to organize a small parade for the town.

Demands are high

Team officials say the demands of training camp, which continues through Aug. 20, make it difficult for players to be visible in town, as the Baltimore Colts were when they held camps in Westminster from 1956 to 1971.

"From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. they're going. There's a little time here and there, but all of their day is completely full," said Chad Steele, a Ravens spokesman.

County officials, however, are hopeful that the exposure the camp brings the area will help tourism. Especially among people from outside the state.

Kevin Finke, 13, and Kerri Burns, 12, visited Westminster from York, Pa. They were aggressive autograph seekers. By midmorning the pair had gathered 25 signatures from a number of players, including Harbaugh.

Bill Daywalt Sr. and his grandchildren, however, left the morning practice session disappointed in their quest for Starks' autograph.

A tight schedule

After waiting 30 minutes for Starks to come off the field, the rookie rushed off the field and into the locker room. Ravens officials explained that the rookie had a tight schedule and did not have time for autographs.

Daywalt and his grandchildren walked to his car, questioning the team's priorities.

"Is 10 minutes for a $10 million man asking too much?" said Daywalt, who lives in Mount Airy. "It should be for the kids. They are the future of the Ravens."

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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