When training camp begins July 30 and fans arrive in Owings Mills, Md., to watch the Baltimore Ravens prepare for the 2015 season, it will mark the fifth year the team has held training camp at its own private facility instead of heading to McDaniel College in Westminster, Md.
The Ravens held camp at their facility for the first time during the summer of 2011 because of the quick turnaround after the NFL lockout. Fans largely seemed to understand the move during the first year.Given the work stoppage didn't end until July 25, 2011, it would have been a nearly impossible task to plan an entire public training camp in a couple of weeks.
In December 2011, the Ravens announced the move would be permanent. Instead of returning to McDaniel, they would continue holding camp at their Owings Mills facility.
The day the announcement was made, I took to the airwaves to proclaim my understanding for the situation. I suggested the move was logical, expected and probably the best possible scenario for the organization. As the league had grown exponentially, the difficulty of uprooting an entire organization from a state-of-the-art facility built specifically to the needs of a football team and moving it to a small college and a local hotel wasn't logical.
I assumed my listeners would similarly understand and agree, even if they were doing so begrudgingly. I don't think I've ever been so wrong about anything.
The reaction to the news was vitriolic. Fans were furious to see their summer football Mecca taken away. No matter what the team offered to make up for it via public practices, the number of fans allowed to watch practices would be limited compared to McDaniel College.
Admittedly, I was the wrong person to understand their emotions. Within a year of my birth, the National Football League disappeared from Charm City. By the time it returned, I was already nearing high school. My adolescence wasn't filled with memories of my father packing me in the car and driving up to Carroll County to watch my football heroes run around. I didn't spend afternoons trying to track down autographs from my favorite players.
By the time I finally attended my first training camp, I was already too old to be pushing kids around for autographs, and I was far too jaded to think it was neat to see Wally Richardson toss around a pigskin. As someone who covered football for a living later in life, Westminster was a nightmare. The farther drive, the crowded facility and having to fight traffic to get from practice to a work area just didn't work for me.
So even as I was screaming at security personnel at training camp last summer live on the radio while they asked to see a press credential that didn't exist, I've been much happier to have the event in Owings Mills.
There's something strange about fatherhood, however.
I've been going through a number of "firsts" with my 5-month-old son. We've gone to our first baseball game together, swam in a pool for the first time and more. As I go through them, I start to wonder about future firsts.
Awkwardly, I've started to wonder about whether my son would want the training camp memories I don't have.
While the Ravens have created ways for more fans to attend practices in Owings Mills (expanded parking this summer will allow up to 1,000 fans to attend every day), attendance is still based on planning a trip well in advance and winning the right to attend via lottery. The reality of parenthood is that planning such events is not always plausible.
So will there ever be a time Ravens fans will simply be able to toss the kids in a car on a Saturday morning and head to training camp because things happened to work out that day?
"We keep searching for ways to get more fans into our training camp practices at the Under Armour Performance Center," Ravens senior vice president Kevin Byrne said. "Will we ever reach the scenes with tens of thousands that we had at McDaniel College? Probably not. But we think there are ways to allow more fans to attend. We'll have more this summer, and hopefully, this will continue to grow."
That's about what I expected -- it's completely understandable and yet still a bit disappointing. Nothing about the league has changed to make hosting camp elsewhere a better option for the Ravens than hosting it in Owings Mills. If anything, the decision became more justifiable when an Owings Mills-trained team claimed the Super Bowl XLVII title.
I just hope it doesn't cost my son the chance to make the types of memories I wasn't afforded in my own childhood.