Granted the Ravens don’t play until tomorrow however the NFL playoffs start this afternoon. This is always a welcome day for someone like me who loves football as it is, however it also means that pitchers and catchers are only six weeks away from reporting! However that brings up an interesting point; is Baltimore a football or a baseball town? I suppose that up until recently it was predominantly a football town in the sense that the football team was great and the baseball team…not so great I suppose. However 2012 brought us playoff appearances in both sports. So…which is it?
People will of course point to inflated ticket prices, television ratings, etc, and argue that football is without a doubt more ingrained into the psyche of any city.However keep in mind that part of the “charm” of the NFL is that it’s really a once a week thing. Baseball is a daily grind that never seems to end for those who follow it. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, I’m merely saying that cities wait all week leading up to this one game. Then on Sunday (or Monday night) it all comes to a head when the team takes the field. Baseball is different in that it’s every night.
The fact is that you have plenty of people that live and die with both teams, and some who do in a sense favor one over the other. However this is a baseball column, isn’t is?! First off let me preface this by saying that all my life I heard about the great Johnny Unitas and the 1958 NFL title game as much as I did about the likes of Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, et al. The Orioles were the only game in town from 1984 until 1996 when the Ravens kicked off at Memorial Stadium. (And keep in mind that the Colts were waning in popularity for the last few years at Memorial Stadium…) The teams on the field weren’t always the best in baseball, but the fact was that the O’s were the only game in town (and this includes in Washington DC, where there was no baseball team at that time) so they thrived in terms of popularity.
The Ravens caught up when the O’s fell on tough times throughout the late 1990′s and until 2012. However I would submit that even through those Oriole struggles, baseball still had a special place in the hearts and minds of Baltimoreans. First off it tends to remind us more so of our past and of our childhoods than any other sport. However let’s simplify this just a bit; it’s a summer sport, right? Summer represents BBQ’s, the beach, ice cream, and overall good times in most people’s lives. Last August during an Orioles’ road trip I spent a few days downy-oshun. In the evenings I sat at dockside bars watching and reporting on the Orioles. I saw a lot of orange and black down at the Delmarva shore last summer, undoubtedly due to the season that the Orioles were having. While the Birds have always been well represented at the shore, most people seemed to have a bit more spring in their step.
The Orioles have always had media (radio and TV) coverage at the region’s beaches, so this is nothing new. However it illustrates how in this region of the country the local baseball team is so important to the collective psyche that people still in a sense go on vacation…and take the O’s with them. In fairness, the Ravens have radio coverage in the Ocean City, MD market as well. However I’m not sure that football goes along with summer vacation as well as baseball. Speaking for myself, I have fond memories of sitting on the beach on occasions as a kid and being able to hear the voice of the great Chuck Thompson calling an afternoon matinee. That along with the combined smell of the sea, suntan lotion, boardwalk fries, and the sound of the surf represents the beach and summer vacation to me and I think to a lot of folks in this region.
This is an Oriole column, so we are in fact a bit slanted in a sense. However there’s no real comparison between the NFL and MLB. Both are great sports with great traditions, and in fact they cater to mostly the same people. Anyone who has any tie to the city of Baltimore should be proud to be a part of the tradition of Cal Ripken Jr, Ray Lewis, Jim Palmer, Johnny Unitas, Brooks/Frank Robinson, Raymond Berry, the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Colts/Ravens, et al. I’m sure that Ravens fans (along with fans of the Washington Redskins) sit at places such as Harpoon Hannas in Fenwick Island, DE to watch the games just as they do with the O’s in the summertime. So which sport is more important or more favored? Tough to say…you make the call!