Making his way along a mulch-covered walkway yesterday at McDaniel College's Bair Stadium, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick wore a smile.
Today, his players will begin their ninth training camp at the college. But this year, they'll practice on a new synthetic turf surface that was installed this summer on the main athletic field as part of a six-year contract between the college and the football team.
"We're thrilled about the new field. It's not only good for the Ravens, but it will also serve the college's purposes," Billick said after a quick stroll on the field.
Billick said he is glad the team and the college were able to work together on replacing the field. The team and the college shared the cost of installing the new turf, matching it to the surface used at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
"I've always felt a little guilty about coming and beating up their field," Billick said.
Like a new pair of shoes, the field needed a little breaking in. To help with that, the college had many of its summer campers walk the field to help compact the surface.
"We've had several of the camps play on the field - soccer and field hockey camps, as well as the kicking camp" for high school and college students, said Mary Jo Colbert, director of conference and auxiliary services for the college.
A day before the three-week training camp was scheduled to begin, workers put on the finishing touches and curious fans showed up on campus for a peek.
"It's a beehive of activity. You see the concessionaires getting everything washed down, displaying their products. Boscov's putting up their shelves, making sure their cash registers are working. Sign people and display people installing things. White picket fences going up to show walk areas," Colbert said.
Among those setting up shop was Joseph Gwiazdowski, store manager for Boscov's, a department store chain that operates the official Ravens training camp store.
"We're anxious for the champs to come back to town. ... The fans are very receptive and seem to appreciate the assortment we offer," said Gwiazdowski, who works at the store in TownMall of Westminster. Boscov's is in its second year with the training camp.
"We found that a large number of women attend training camp, close to 50 percent of all visitors are women. So we have lots of women's apparel - the women asked for it," he said.
There's even a gift offer through Clinique, a makeup and perfume brand, for training camp shoppers, Gwiazdowski said.
Finding a football won't be hard either.
"We have over 160 running feet of footballs - ranging from $14.99 to $100," Gwiazdowski said. Some of them even cheer like a fan or squawk like a raven.
For the Ray Lewis fan, there is a "game day" Lewis jersey, which will sell for $300. Replica jerseys for other players will be sold, but for decidedly less money.
Most agreed that the best parts of training camp are free.
Fans will be able to meet the team and get autographs from players after morning and afternoon practices, which start today and end Aug. 24.
This year's camp also features "Ravenstown," an obstacle course-type area on the college's two tennis courts, where visitors can try throwing a football through a target or kicking a football through the uprights, among other activities.
There is also the "Gatorade Junior Training Camp," where youngsters can experience training camp drills. One of them is the "quarterback challenge," which requires children to circle cones and then jump over two dummies before throwing the ball at a target.
"Fans of all ages come over to test their skills," said Scott Westcoat, director of fun for ASG Sports, a sports marketing and event company that operates the events.
"We follow the same schedule as the training camp. While the adults are watching the athletes, the children can come over here" to the Ravenstown play area, Westcoat said.
"There's something for everybody. ... I'll be bringing my own children up here," said Westcoat, who has a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. "The players' kids come, too."
Training camp is "a good opportunity to get geared up for the season. Everyone gets to get up-close to the players," he said.
The Ravens will report for their first practice today at 8:45 a.m. An afternoon session is set for 4 p.m.
"Everyone is excited about having the Ravens here. ... It's neat to have an NFL team training in your back yard," Colbert said.