No better place than Babe's house for first Baltimore steps

Commentary

August 28, 2005|By Rick Maese

I FIGURE WE might as well start at the beginning.

So there I was last week, in front of a modest brick building where Babe Ruth was born 110 years ago.

When I was a kid, I couldn't fathom baseball existing before the Babe and therefore no other sport really existed either. Even now, we can at least agree that the sporting world was flat until the Babe showed us what it meant to be round.

I stood there last week because this seemed as good a spot as any to begin my career and life in Baltimore. I won't spend too much time in this space telling you how excited I am to be a part of your sports world. I think after a couple of weeks, you'll be able to tell on your own.

But an introduction is in order. My name is simple: Rick Maese, last name pronounced like the pepper spray, not the Ravens' long snapper, Joe Maese (pronounced, he tells me, My-EEE-say).

Because I knew that part wouldn't take too long, I wanted to spend more time getting introduced to your city. So I left The Sun office, made 100 turns and stumbled upon the Ravens' practice facility. The goal was simple: get some advice from the experts on what to expect out of this city and its fans.

The first helper was wide receiver Mark Clayton. We're both rookies here.

We both play the Madden NFL video game. Here's an exclusive: Clayton confides that he often plays as the Vikings or Chiefs. I'll stick with the Ravens (10 reader-points for the new columnist!).

What was the first thing that really struck you about the area? I asked him.

"Man, all those trees," said Clayton, the Ravens' first-round draft pick out of Oklahoma. "What's that about?"

I'm coming here after three years living and working in Orlando, Fla. The trees don't freak me out. But there was some other stuff I was worried about.

For example, I'm suddenly concerned about navigating the city streets with Sidney Ponson on the road.

Clayton told me he's prepared for the passionate fans, the kind that will love you like a brother until you drop a screen pass. I'm ready, too.

There's nothing like a fan who respects the game and actually knows something about it.

I want excited fans and passionate readers. You know your sports here. I hope we can trade some ideas in this space and have some fun in the process. I'll try my best to come at you three times a week from a unique angle.

I'm younger than some of you. "Are you The Sun's new intern?" one guy asked me last week. But like you, I've been watching and dissecting sports since I could walk.

My sports reality is Johnny U on ESPN Classic, but I actually prefer it that way. History is preserved perfectly on highlight reels. Athletes like the Babe, Unitas, Brooks Robinson, they'll always be flawless to me. Maybe they're that way to you, too.

There's so much to learn about the area and about its rich sports history.

That's one of the reasons I sought out a second helper at Camden Yards.

I didn't have time to talk to all of the Orioles' general managers and I can't remember if there's a field manager in place or not, so I decided to seek out an old stand-by: Jim Palmer's smile. Not Jim Palmer, just his smile.

Palmer told me: "This is home. There's always something going on. The people here don't have a lot of pretentiousness. They care about their sports here. They have their opinions, which is good, and they're certainly passionate about those opinions.

Jim Palmer's smile, well, it just smiled (and looked fantastic!).

I'm ready for this new challenge. I'm happy you'll be here with me. I'm as curious as you are to see if Kyle Boller is a Marino or a Mirer and whether Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer or a User.

I'm typing this final section from Camden Yards. I'd never been here before last week. I grew up watching minor league baseball in Albuquerque, N.M. If I could tell my younger self that he'd soon be watching baseball every day in a ballpark like this, I'm fairly certain he would have happily bailed out of those metaphysics courses at the University of New Mexico.

Camden Yards is a ballpark packed with character in a city packed with character.

Babe might have planted the seed, but somewhere along the line, Baltimore sports became much bigger than him, bigger than that small rowhouse just three blocks from the ballpark.

And I'm honored to be a part of it.

Points after/Rick Maese

Calcium overload: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Brad Penny hit it on the head. Penny is the pitcher who bet a Florida Marlins batboy that he couldn't chug a gallon of milk in an hour without getting sick. "It's kind of ridiculous that you get a 10-game suspension for steroids and a six-game suspension for milk," Penny told The Miami Herald. There's no need to further point out how ridiculous the suspension is, but what I kept coming back to was this: Is it really that tough to drink a gallon of milk in an hour? So I tried it. I didn't drink the full gallon, and I didn't last a full hour. Three-quarters of a gallon in 30 minutes. The next 10 minutes were spent in the restroom, cursing lactic acid and Brad Penny.

Last call: I hope I don't have the chance to introduce myself to Sidney Ponson as an Oriole. He doesn't belong here anymore. In a community that must take substance abuse seriously, Ponson has shown on three occasions that he doesn't care. Thursday morning marked the third time Ponson has been charged with drunken driving. This is baseball - you can't change the rules. Ponson doesn't deserve a fourth strike.

Armstrong's fading star: I found a discarded "Livestrong" bracelet on the side of a College Park road last week. I don't trust the French media reports. And I don't necessarily trust Lance Armstrong. I tend to think more evidence will come out that makes us further question Armstrong's hero status. His legacy will suffer more damage. I hope his fund-raising efforts and the Lance Armstrong Foundation do not.

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