Baltimore Orioles: Old and new intersect

The Baltimore Orioles’ fortunes aren’t necessarily tied to the local NFL team. Or teamS (plural), as it may be – the current and the former, that is. But…do they? Or did they in the past?

The Indianapolis Colts come to town this afternoon to play the Baltimore Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium. That would be the former Baltimore Colts, that is. You know, the team that left town in the middle of the night on Mayflower moving vans in March of 1984, ripping the hearts of the city and it’s sports fans out all the while? Yes, those Colts. And they’re back – for today at least.

It’s certainly not the first time the Colts have come to town. And it won’t be the last. Baltimore’s really an interesting study of a town in terms of the NFL. In the sense of the NFL, it’s squarely behind the Ravens now. However if you ask most fans (my father included) if they’d take the Colts name and tradition back if given the chance, I think the answer would be yes.

Only in Baltimore do you have the sight of the Colts wearing their white visiting uniforms and coming out onto the field to the thundering boos of many who still remember them fondly. Only in Baltimore do you have the band playing the former Baltimore Colts and current Baltimore Ravens fight song. And only in Baltimore are the Colts the visitors in a stadium that honors “Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts” in it’s ring of fame. Needless to say, it’s an interesting dynamic.

I was three years old when the Colts left. But the mere act ripped my Dad’s heart out, as well as those of his brothers. And that was true of all fans of their generation. So while the Ravens have playoff hopes on the line, today’s game has meaning across the board, regardless of anything else.

However as I said, in some senses the Orioles’ fortunes were tied to that snowy morning in 1984. The reason the Colts left was because they wanted a new stadium – Memorial Stadium had become too decrepit for their liking. And eventually, the writing was on the wall for the Orioles to adopt the same sentiment.

The act of the Colts leaving put both Baltimore and really the entire sports world on notice that owners (especially garbage owners like Robert Irsay) could hold cities hostage by demanding a new stadium. And if that city was unwilling to build it, there was always another city that would do so and except that team as it’s own with open arms. Teams had moved before – heck, the Baltimore Bullets relocated down the pike to Washington. But never like that.

So the movement eventually became not only to secure funding in the Maryland state legislature for a new football stadium at some point in time, but also for a new ballpark for the O’s. At the time, Washington was always the low-hanging fruit in terms of a baseball team relocating. There were rumors that the O’s would go there, or Charlotte, or perhaps even Portland, OR. The threat was real.

With help of course famously from the former Baltimore Colts marching band, the state legislature approved funding for both stadiums. The football stadium of course was on hold because the city didn’t have a team. However in November of 1995 the Cleveland Browns announced their intention to relocate to Baltimore the following season, and they became the Ravens. They played for two years at Memorial Stadium, which I always saw as poetic justice. However the funding that the state earmarked so long before eventually became what’s now called M & T Bank Stadium, which opened in 1998.

Plans for a new stadium for the O’s began in earnest almost immediately. Oriole Park at Camden Yards of course opened in 1992. And as we know, it’s The Ballpark that Forever Changed Baseball. All of these issues (the Colts leaving, resulting in funding for two stadiums) will intersect today in the Inner Harbor, as the Ravens push for the playoffs against the Colts.

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