Merchants miss Colts' mingling

Ravens' strict camp leaves no time for Westminster stores

August 05, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

While the Ravens practice before hundreds of fans every day at Western Maryland College, life on Westminster's Main Street is quiet and staid -- a sharp contrast to the camps of the Baltimore Colts who often held court at local establishments.

The situation has led to cancellation this year of a Ravens window decorating contest on Main Street. The contest was won in 1998 by Tony D'Eugenio, owner of Giulianova Groceria, who, in a fit of discouragement, once wrote "Vinny Who?" on his front porch because quarterback Vinny Testaverde never ventured down the street to visit the Italian deli.

With any luck, though, the town's spirit -- and commerce -- will pick up tomorrow when the Ravens hold a scrimmage at 6 p.m. at the college's Scott S. Bair Stadium. The event, expected to draw 6,000, was scheduled for Westminster instead of Baltimore's PSI Net Stadium as a goodwill gesture toward the town, Kevin Byrne, a Ravens vice president said.

Nearly 30 years ago, things were different.

Then, Colts players daily mingled on Main Street as training camp stretched through July and August.

Still legendary in Westminster is defensive tackle Art Donovan's megameal of 25 chili dogs with onions at Harry's Main Street restaurant -- a feat you'd never see today because, Ravens officials explain, the players adhere to strict health-conscious diets with color-coded foods.

Byrne explained that changing National Football League rules and free agency have affected the once-relaxed, endearing social swirl of training camps.

Fans must now attend practices in order to meet Ravens or get an autograph, because the team is "locked in" on a tight schedule that includes practices, afternoon nap time, team meetings until 9: 30 p.m. and an 11 p.m. curfew.

"There is not a comparison to when the Colts were here," Byrne said. "Then, training camps were longer. We're here for four weeks, and the players are basically locked in, they have a tight schedule for each day -- they don't have the opportunity to wander from it.

"And we feed them a healthy diet that includes color-coded food. We don't encourage them to eat at the local restaurants -- we want them to eat what we serve them."

That doesn't sit well with some merchants, who hoped the return of a pro football training camp three summers ago would be a boon for downtown businesses.

D'Eugenio said he has attempted to lure players to his deli with his homemade cannoli. He's also lobbied Westminster officials to sponsor an NFL parade each July down Main Street -- a suggestion rejected by Byrne because camp is limited to 15 days prior to the first preseason game, which for the Ravens is Aug. 12 at Philadelphia.

"In order to have a parade, we'd have to ask our coaches to give up a practice one afternoon," Byrne said. "And we don't want to do that coaches want more practices."

Ravens punter Paul McCord, a Westminster native, said socializing is the last thing on the player's minds.

"There is a different mentality in the game between then and now," McCord said, referring to the Colts' heyday. "Our time is so structured here that any free time we have we want to spend with our families. Most of these guys are not handed maps of the city -- we're pretty isolated your focus here is the game and trying to make the team."

Ravens President David Modell made a cameo appearance in town last week, said Main Street barber Cal Bloom, who trimmed his hair.

"I told him I'd like to see more Ravens players here," said Bloom, who offers a $2 discount on his $9 trim to the Ravens, which Modell declined.

"David said that in the near future there would be a lot more. But you can't expect it to happen overnight."

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said the training camp draws up to 20,000 visitors each year, some from as far as Ohio and Florida.

"I saw a Westminster [dateline] in USA Today this week," Yowan said. "This is, I think, like having a major league team elevate our city, and I don't think you can put a dollar figure on it. The value to the community is beyond question."

Doug Mathias, director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., a nonprofit business association, agreed.

"They are here to train, and they are working them pretty hard -- we understand that," Mathias said. "I think we're going to see them -- on the football field."

But that is of little consequence to D'Eugenio, who says, "They are handling it all wrong."

"They need to come down Main Street so a friendship bond is formed with the crowd. It should be a holiday. The Colts did it."

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