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Fans Show Up In Droves to Ravens' Free Stadium Practice

More than 24,000 fans showed up to get a first look at this year's team.

For 8-year-old Ben Pomerance, Saturday morning's practice at M&T Bank Stadium was more than just an opportunity to get a first look at the 2011 Baltimore Ravens.

For the North Carolina resident, and staunch Ravens fan, the morning was a chance to take in the Raven's home stadium, too.

"It looks like ours at home," said Ben, talking about the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. "[But] I knew the seats would be purple here."

Ben watched practice from section 139 in M&T Bank Stadium's lower bowl with his uncle, Will Vlangas, 42, and cousin Alex Vlangas, 9, both of Bel Air.

Will Vlangas said he brought the boys downtown because they were excited to see the Ravens after a long offseason that put the NFL season in doubt for months.

After the team was forced to cancel its annual pilgrimage to McDaniel College in Westminster, training camp practices that were usually open to the public were moved to the team's in-season training facility in Owings Mills, where the team said there was not enough parking to accommodate spectators.

Of course, there wasn't enough parking in the three lots the Ravens opened for free parking on Saturday, either, as more than 24,000 fans showed up for the practice, which was also free.

Lots appeared full by 9:30 a.m. after opening at 8 a.m. for a 10 a.m. practice. Traffic was snarled around the stadium for much of the morning and into the afternoon.

"I think you are going to have more people here than at the Orioles' game tonight," Will Vlangas said.

While Vlangas said it was disappointing when the NFL lockout forced the Ravens to move training camp out of fan-friendly Westminster this summer, he said holding practice at the team's downtown stadium helped make up for it.

Others, meanwhile, said the practice being at M&T Bank Stadium was the only reason they showed up.

Dave Danielczyk Sr., 39, his wife Deanna Danielczyk and son Dave Danielczyk Jr., all made the short trip from Essex to see the team. Danielczyk Sr. said the family does not ordinarily make the trek to Westminster.

It was easier, he said, to make it downtown.

"I also normally work nonstop," Danielczyk Sr. said. "I happened to be off."

Activities for families were plentiful, with interactive games and photo booths set up throughout the lower concourse. Artists also painted faces and drew caricatures.

Many concession stands were open, including beer kiosks, and vendors walked up and down aisles of seats in the stadium bowl, lending to a game-day atmosphere that left even the players surprised.

Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' first round draft pick, tweeted after the practice, "Good day. Ravens fans are one of a kind. Can't wait till [sic] the first game."

The Ravens open their regular season hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11. Pittsburgh knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl appearance last season.

On the field, the Raven defense appeared to be well-ahead of the offense, which struggled much of the afternoon with missed assignments and dropped passes, showing there was plenty of work to be done before Sept. 11.

Hugh Stewart, 16, plans to be there for the rematch. Stewart, of Hanover, was making his first-ever visit to M&T Bank Stadium Saturday morning, but said he and his father had already decided they would attend the season opener.

The two don't have tickets yet, he said, but they would figure it out. Next time, after all, getting through the turnstiles won't be free.

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