Bipartisan blessing for a revered site

September 11, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

WE LOVE what you've done with the place.

That was the consensus among the hundreds who gathered yesterday at the Stadium Formerly Known As Memorial. The occasion was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for what is now Stadium Place, which will have one- and two-bedroom apartments for senior citizens at about the place where the Colts, Ravens and Orioles once ran roughshod over - and were run roughshod over by - their opponents. Also, as part of the project, there's a new, state-of-the-art YMCA building located closer to 33rd Street.

The dignitaries, officials and honorees gathered on a makeshift stage about Gary Cooper time (that would be "High Noon," as in the movie; come on, work with me, people) to begin the festivities that were pure Baltimore. Morgan State University's marching band struck up tunes - including its signature rendition of Mandrill's hit "Git It All" that has become a tradition - while some tall feller sporting cheaters and wearing a red tie mingled with the folks on stage. Wasn't that Brooks Robinson? Almost didn't recognize him not spearing some scorching grounder trying to slip by third base.

And the guy on stage dressed in an early-19th-century military uniform, complete with epaulets: Didn't he look like Mayor Martin O'Malley? By golly, it was O'Malley, who was on hand to cut the ribbon before the festivities moved indoors to the gymnasium of the YMCA.

But inside the gym, Hizzoner walked by dressed for mayorin' - nattily attired in a black dress jacket, navy blue dress shirt and gold tie.

"He must have found a phone booth," somebody wisecracked.

Not at all, the mayor assured us. He had come to work dressed for business and changed into the War of 1812 outfit as part of this weekend's Defenders' Day celebration at Fort McHenry. Before coming to Stadium Place, O'Malley was at the fort talking to city and Baltimore County students about our second war of independence.

O'Malley took a seat on a stage that was set up in the gym, next to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. There was a space between them that a couple of more chairs would have fit in, but the gap between their philosophies has been, for the past year, much wider. Whatever their differences, the speakers at this affair were having no truck with them today.

"Without the governor, without the mayor, we wouldn't be standing here today," said Lee Jensen, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Central Maryland.

Other speakers heaped praise on both candidates - uh, er, executives - throughout the program. The mayor and the governor even thanked each other and their respective staffs when they spoke.

This was an occasion mercifully free of politicking. That would have to wait for another day. (Only in Maryland could a gubernatorial campaign start two years before the election. Maryland isn't like the other 49 states, whose residents are no doubt heaving a sigh of relief over that fact.)

No, this was about a bipartisan effort to make lemonade from the lemons the city got when two new stadiums were built downtown, leaving us in a quandary about what to do with Memorial Stadium and all those old memories of our Colts battling the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions while our O's tangled with the likes of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

"It's emotional, driving by this place, for most of us who were young during an era that will never come again," Ehrlich said. "We tend to live in the past in Baltimore a little bit."

A little bit? I'm still trying to find a printer who will crank out "Honk If You Think Earl Morrall Tanked Super Bowl III" stickers.

It was O'Malley who reminded the packed gymnasium that our past included those to whom the stadium was dedicated in the first place: our military men and women who had fallen in battle.

"Their sacrifices, their contributions are not forgotten," O'Malley said. "It's here."

Here, on the spot where the memorial read "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds," O'Malley was saying, is a place dedicated to senior citizens, some of them who might be the relatives and loved ones of those veterans the stadium honored. The proximity of the YMCA will also be an advantage, according to Calvin Anderson, who works part time for, and was representing, Councilwoman Helen Holton at the event.

"These seniors can walk right across the parking lot and indulge in swimming, which is great aerobics and helps with arthritis," Anderson said.

City Comptroller Joan Pratt, standing near Anderson, agreed.

"It's a great day in Baltimore City," Pratt said.

It had to be, to get our governor and our mayor to bury the hatchet for even a brief 30 minutes.

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