Barbara Zeigenfuse enjoyed going to Orioles games in her youth, and she wants a similar experience for her 11 grandchildren. So Tuesday, she brought two of them — Grace Bahl, 10, and Ruth Bahl, 13 — to McDaniel College for the opening practice of Ravens training camp.
Zeigenfuse, who lives in Harford County, wasn't disappointed in the experience or in the team's new camp policy that makes autographs available only for children between the ages of 6 and 15.
She suggested the change takes adult autograph seekers out of the equation. "It was more organized. I think this is an excellent move."
Then, nodding toward Grace and Ruth, she added, "They're tomorrow's fans."
To which Grace responded, "We're today's fans," and got a high-five from her grandmother.
Either way, the Bahl sisters relished their moment in the sun, with cooler temperatures in the high 80s and less than full-throttle intensity on the McDaniel field. The opening workout, for rookies and select veterans, had the reserved feel of a mini-camp rather than training camp. There was no full-contact hitting, no deep passes and no raucous eruptions by a crowd estimated by the Ravens at 985.
Attendance will more than double after veterans arrive in Westminster for Friday's first practice by the full team. Tuesday's crowd was polite and unobtrusive, a perfect kind of family gathering.
There was discussion about what the Ravens will do — Grace Bahl said they're going all the way this year — and about the new autograph policy. Reaction to the policy was mixed. Kids seemed to enjoy the new setup, but not all adults were thrilled.
Count Tim Vanmeter among those who don't like the change. Vanmeter, 35, says he has driven from Fort Myers, Fla., to Maryland each of the past six summers to add autographs and memorabilia to a burgeoning collection that started when he lived in Cumberland. This year, he brought his son, Alex, 8, and Florida neighbor, Austin Douglas, 7, to practice.
The boys got autographs from several players. Vanmeter did not get any.
"I've always been friendly with kids and adults getting autographs," he said. "I'm not complaining about it; I'm glad they're doing stuff for kids. [But] being a big fan, I try to collect as many autographs as I can."
Vanmeter also said he thought there would be a dropoff in attendance at camp. Normally, he said, he gets to McDaniel College at 5 a.m. to get a front-row position for autographs. Tuesday, he arrived at 6:30 a.m. and said there were only five people waiting for practice. There appeared to be fewer fans sitting in the bleachers during practice as well.
It's not quite clear whether that was a product of the new policy or the fact Ray Lewis and most of the veterans had not arrived.
Under the new policy, kids 6 to 15 are issued wristbands and once practice is over, enter a kids-only area just off the practice field. They are permitted to bring one item to be signed, and they can get only one signature per player, but signatures from multiple players. Adults are not allowed in the signing area. There are no autograph sessions in the afternoon.
The change, two years in the making, was precipitated by the swelling crowds in Westminster and increased emphasis on autographs.
"The principle reason is safety," team president Dick Cass said after the morning workout. "There is increasing concern about the size of the crowds and the pushing and shoving. We've been thinking about this really for the last two years. … After seeing the scene last year, we decided we really needed to make a change."
Last year, Cass said, the Ravens "saw more potential fist fights, [and that] parents were upset by their kids getting pushed."
Jennifer Lazur, who went to training camp almost daily when she lived in Westminster, has been collecting autographs for at least six years and says she has "hundreds," including six helmets with one signature each.
But Lazur, 37, who lives in Arbutus now, decided not to attend Tuesday's workout because she had recent back surgery and didn't want to risk being jostled by the crowd.
"I can understand it," she said by cell phone. "Especially because being in the front row, usually I was the one being squeezed and pushed. I do think the kids should have priority. But I'll have to start paying for autographs when they [players] do signings.
"I'm really disappointed. I stand there and try to be friendly, and help people behind me get autographs. It's all about courtesy. But I don't blame them. It'll be easier for the players."
Cass said he hadn't heard of a specific complaint from a player and accepts the fact that some adults get autographs for the purpose of selling them on the Internet. He said the business of selling autographs did not factor in the decision to change protocol.