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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ravens Insider: Is Baltimore a baseball or football city? Stellar 2023 for Orioles and Ravens reignites longtime debate.


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Camden Yards was packed, Baltimore fans were covered in orange swag and the Orioles were minutes away from their most important home game in almost a decade.

After losing the day before, the local nine were hosting Game 2 of the American League Division Series for a virtual must-win October contest in front of 46,475 fans. However, shortly before first pitch, some fans weren’t solely focused on hyping themselves up for the postseason ballgame. Instead, for many on the club level, their eyes were glued to nearby televisions showing the end of the Ravens’ regular-season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That sight would’ve hardly been a surprise for the many Baltimore fans who believe Charm City is — at its core — a football town first. No matter your allegiance, 2023 has been a remarkable year to be a Baltimore fan. The Orioles were the best team in MLB’s AL, while the Ravens are the front-runner for the top seed in the NFL’s AFC. The two franchises’ success in the same year — a rarity in recent decades — poses a fitting moment to ponder the age-old question of whether Baltimore is a football or baseball city.

“I think it’s probably more of a football city,” said Mike Miller, a 46-year-old Baltimore native who was donning an Orioles cap while tailgating outside M&T Bank Stadium before a Ravens game in November. “But the Orioles have given the fans something to root for now, so it’s becoming closer.”

Some Baltimore fans say the city loves both teams equally, like parents with their children. But, as everyone knows, parents do, in fact, have their favorites, and so do fan bases. The Colts were the first to have success, as the Johnny Unitas-led squad won two championships in the late 1950s, including the 1958 title game that is considered “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

“Football city,” Baltimore fan Ed Wazlavek said emphatically when asked the question. Wazlavek, 67, said growing up in East Baltimore and watching the Colts on Sundays was “like gospel.” It’s why he hasn’t missed attending a Ravens home game since the city regained an NFL franchise in 1996.

“Don’t get me wrong, the Orioles were popular,” Wazlavek said, naming the legends of those 1960s teams. “But I think because the Colts were relevant first is why it’s always been a football town. You see it, even if they’re losing, the stadium’s always sold out. The Orioles, it’s not like that.”

M&T Bank Stadium is lit in orange after the Orioles clinched the AL East Division championship at Orioles Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2023.
M&T Bank Stadium is lit in orange after the Orioles clinched the AL East Division championship at Orioles Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 28.

It’s also been more fruitful and less draining to be a Ravens fan. Since 2000, the Ravens have been one of the NFL’s best teams with two Super Bowl rings, six division titles — with a seventh on the way if they win Sunday against the visiting Miami Dolphins — and 15 playoff berths. The Orioles, meanwhile, haven’t won a World Series since 1983, claimed a division title this year for just the third time in the past four decades and played in the postseason for only the fourth time this century.

“Since the Ravens got here, they’ve been a contender,” said Kevin Green, a 28-year-old Baltimore fan who wore an Orioles cap and a Lamar Jackson jersey while tailgating before a Ravens game last month. “We are always in the conversation.”

“Being an Orioles fan gets very frustrating,” said John Shipley, 41, of Rosedale. “It’s good, though, for when the Ravens do go through a rough patch, we’re accustomed to losing because of the Orioles.”

While the Ravens’ consistent success and the NFL’s increasing popularity are why many fans see Baltimore as a football city, that perhaps doesn’t tell the full story. During the Orioles’ struggles before Buck Showalter arrived as manager more than a decade ago and the recent rebuild that officially ended this year, a yearning was bubbling under the surface for a good ballclub to root for. Camden Yards drew more than 2 million fans — the mark of a solid attendance year — every season from 2012 and 2017, and while the Orioles came just short in 2023, attendance increased by 41.5% compared with 2022.

“I believe this city has embraced the good young team,” said Dwayne Jackson, a 43-year-old Baltimore native. “We’ve got a lot of young talent. We’re going to grow with them for years.”

That everlasting hope in the Orioles embedded deep in the city’s conscience might go back further than anyone alive can remember.

Baseball has a rich history in Baltimore even though it didn’t have an MLB team for most of the first half of the 20th century. The original Baltimore Orioles were a founding member of the American Association in the 1880s, later joining the National League in the 1890s and briefly the AL in the early 1900s when Hall of Famer John McGraw was a star player and manager.

“I would say at its heart, at its soul, Baltimore is a baseball city just because the Orioles have been here so long,” Baltimore fan Sean Jones said.

Then there’s the fact that the greatest baseball player to ever live was born in Ridgely’s Delight, which is still memorialized with the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, and his childhood home was located where center field of Oriole Park is today. Ruth then started his professional baseball career playing for the International League Orioles — a dominant minor league team in the 1910s and 1920s — in 1914 before joining the Boston Red Sox.

“I don’t think there’s any question that this was by far a baseball town before it was a football town,” longtime former News American and Baltimore Sun sports reporter Jim Henneman said. “But you could probably say that about any major city because it wasn’t until the 1950s when the NFL started to take hold.”

Angels Orioles Baseball
The Orioles' Adley Rutschman, left, and the Ravens' Kyle Hamilton, right, pose after they exchanged jerseys before a game May 16 at Camden Yards. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/AP
The Orioles’ Adley Rutschman, left, and the Ravens’ Kyle Hamilton, right, pose after they exchanged jerseys before a game May 16 at Camden Yards. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Henneman, 88, is in his eighth decade covering Baltimore sports, now with PressBox, and he said the answer to this question has “flipped” over the years.

“The Colts hit the jackpot before the Orioles did, so they got a grip on the city,” he said, making the Orioles “kind of like stepchildren for a while.” Then, as the Colts struggled and moved to Indianapolis, the Orioles regained their status, only to have the Ravens come to town and capture the city’s consistent praise.

On-field success isn’t everything, though. According to Sam Clevenger, an assistant professor of sport management at Towson University, the ethos of a rust-belt city like Baltimore might jell more with the tough, gritty nature of football.

“I think Cleveland and Baltimore are kind of similar,” said Clevenger, a native of Canton, Ohio, a football town that is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It seems like cities like that — Buffalo is another one — I think a lot of people are inclined to connect with football more. I think a lot of people in postindustrial cities have a nostalgia for the industrial, blue-collar past of the cities. They connect with these ideas of hard work and perseverance, and I think there’s an easy way to link that kind of nostalgia and identity with the sport of football.”

No matter the answer to the question, though, right now might be the best time to be a Baltimore fan in more than 50 years. If the Ravens can end the regular season as the AFC’s best team — a status they can claim Sunday with a victory — it would be the first time that both Baltimore franchises have finished atop their respective leagues since 1970. They both brought home championship trophies that year.

“It’s amazing, Jackson said. “You go from one season to the next, from baseball season to football season, and you still get to feel proud of your home team.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Hayes Gardner contributed to this article.

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