Fans (and Their Money) Welcome

Ravens Faithful Descend On Westminster

Its Shop Owners Await An Annual Boost To The Bottom Line

July 27, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Prepare to duck as you enter Cal Bloom's Barber Shoppe in Westminster. There's a fierce-looking plaster raven atop the doorway, guaranteed to make your hair stand up. All the easier for Cal to cut it.

See the lunchroom across the way, all dolled up with balloons and banners of purple and gold? Step inside Harry's Main Street Grille and order a Terrell Suggs Panini ("Guaranteed to knock you off your feet!").

Down the road at Baugher's Restaurant - just a shout from the football field - the staff is braced for the start of Ravens training camp this week.

"It'll happen overnight," waitress Connie Toston said. "On Friday, almost every table in here will have at least one purple shirt."

Let the pilgrimage begin.

For a chunk of the past 60 years, Baltimore's football faithful have poured into Westminster each summer to see the Ravens - and before that, the Colts - practice at McDaniel College. And while this Carroll County community has long since shed its drowsy image, the arrival of the team and its legions still pumps life into the town - and cash into its coffers.

"Our business goes up about 30 percent for the first week of camp," said Harry Sirinakis, owner of Harry's, whose grandfather started the place in 1946. Three years later, the Colts began training in Westminster, and Harry's became a hangout for players and fans. It's where Art Donovan, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle, claims to have polished off 25 hot dogs in one sitting. Who's to doubt it?

"After practice, we'd go see a movie at the Carroll Theater, because it was air-conditioned, then head over to Harry's," said Don Joyce, a Colts defensive lineman in the 1950s. "Donovan would lay a half-dozen open buns on his arm, then have them filled with hot dogs, chili and onions.

"By the time the sixth bun was filled, 'Fatso' had already eaten three."

The Colts trained here until 1972, when owner Bob Irsay chose to pull up stakes to move camp first to Tampa, Fla., then to Towson State College and, later, to Goucher College. The Ravens have practiced at McDaniel (nee Western Maryland College) since their inception in 1996. They are one of a vanishing breed. Of 32 NFL teams, only 14 still train in college settings.

"We're happy here," Ravens President Dick Cass said. "It's a very intimate setting that allows the fans to get up close and personal with the players. It's a nice little boost for the town, too."

Restaurants make most of that dough. At Baugher's (est. 1948), the lunchroom gets so busy between Ravens workouts that some regular patrons stay clear for the month that the team is in town.

When morning practice ends, around 11 a.m., the plum-colored throng fans out.

"We've had people drive up in purple cars and people come in wearing purple beads," said Toston, a waitress there for 12 years. "Kids come in wearing the same shirts they just had autographed."

Sometimes, come evening, a player will drop by, too.

"Once I waited on this big guy at the counter," Toston said. "I asked, 'Did you watch the Ravens practice today?'

" 'No,' he said. 'I had to work.' "

Turns out he was a lineman.

"I felt like such a fool," Toston said.

Off-campus player sightings have tailed off since the Colts' halcyon days of a half-century ago. Then, the team lived in the hot college dorms, attended Mass at St. John's Church and drank beer and shot pool with townies at a joint called Os and Ginny's.

"Today's players aren't as easy to get to as we were," said Gino Marchetti, the Colts' Hall of Fame defensive end. "Back then, on a nice evening, you could walk the streets of town without being asked for autographs. A couple of our players even married girls from Westminster."

Still, residents talk proudly of having spotted a Raven here or there, in civvies, acting just like normal folk.

Overheard on the streets of Westminster last week:

"Yeah, I stood in line behind Willis McGahee at SunTrust Bank. ... I was getting my nails done at the salon and two Ravens came in for pedicures. ... Did you see Jonathan Ogden (6 feet 9, 345 pounds) last year making his own salad at Safeway? He looked like Sasquatch in sweat pants."

At Krysztof's Barber Shop, near the Best Western motel where the club is quartered, Ravens pictures dot the walls. Never mind that some are bald.

"I've shaved [general manager] Ozzie Newsome's head with a straight razor," owner Chris Sontag said. "As I worked, we talked about our families, and about women. No football."

Both of Baltimore's football teams have left their mark on the town, said Jackie Finch, a Westminster resident for 50 years.

"The Ravens built an awfully nice rubberized track at McDaniel. My husband goes up there to do his walking," said Finch, who lives 1 1/2 blocks from the college.

More important, Finch said, were changes spurred by the Colts' training there during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"The Colts actually started integration in Westminster," she said. "Here were these black players, sweating and doing glory for the state, but with no place to even get a beer."

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