1. Orioles Magic Returns
So this is what it feels like. It had been so long since there’d been winning baseball in this town, we’d almost forgotten what it was like. When Camden Yards was packed––with a sea of orange, not Yankees pinstripes or Red Sox red and blue. When people in line at the grocery store were all talking about the O’s, not the latest Hollywood gossip. When baseball was fun. It seemed, in a way, that Baltimore was a baseball town that had been asleep for 14 years. But thanks to Buck and the boys, we were awakened. For some young fans, it was the first time in their lives that the Orioles had been contenders. For older fans, it was a reminder of how it used to be: of “Why Not?” seasons and teams starring guys named Brooks and Eddie and Cal. Best of all? This was a team to love: not a bunch of overpriced free agents, but farm guys, castoffs, and underdogs (total team payroll: $80,804,000). For his part, the mostly unflappable Buck Showalter––en route to becoming the AL Manager of the Year––seemed thrilled, baffled, and slightly amused by all the team’s success. Every night, it seemed there was a new hero, a new man to step into the spotlight, a new name to memorize, a new baseball card to collect. The euphoria peaked when the Orioles beat the Texas Rangers—a team that owned us during the regular season—in a one-game playoff to advance to the ALDS. In true form, the Orioles scrapped, even when their bats disappeared against the Yankees. We took the Yanks (team payroll: $195,998,004) to a decisive fifth game, made them sweat, proved we were the real deal, until the dream season finally came to an end. No matter that the team ultimately lost. Baltimore’s love affair with baseball was renewed. Announcers remarked that Camden Yards was the loudest, rowdiest park in baseball. That’s what 14 years of slumber will do to you.
2. Same-sex Marriage Goes to Ballot
After falling short for years, same-sex marriage legislation won passage in the General Assembly and then, as expected, went to referendum in November after opponents gathered enough signatures to put the new law to popular vote. Governor Martin O’Malley pushed hard for the legislation––some said because the ambitious former Baltimore mayor wanted to keep pace with New York’s equally ambitious Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed same-sex marriage legislation in 2011. The battle lines grew sharp by summer as big money, often from outside Maryland––such as the A-list fundraiser that included same-sex marriage supporters Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon and a $25,000 donation from Brad Pitt––piled up on each side. Ultimately, Maryland became one of four states to support same-sex marriage at the ballot box, when the referendum passed, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. A raucous crowd celebrated the vote’s passage along with O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s election night party in downtown Baltimore.
3. Michael Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympian
And we thought Beijing was impressive. But the London Olympic Games were equally thrilling and it all came to a head on July 31. Phelps had two races that day and, after getting a disappointing (by his standards) silver medal in the 200-meter butterfly, he had to race in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. If he medaled, Phelps would surpass Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina to become the most-decorated Olympian of all time. No pressure. Ryan Lochte led the relay off and touched first, then teammates Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens kept the lead, handing it off to Phelps, who sailed into the wall and won easily. On cue, the NBC cameras panned to Debbie Phelps and her daughters Hilary and Whitney, who were all cheering with tears in their eyes. Right before the race, Phelps had huddled with his teammates. And, after standing emotionally on the podium for the nineteenth time, he recounted what he had said: “I thanked them for being able to allow me to have this moment.” By the end of the Olympics, Phelps had racked up four gold medals and two silvers. He maintains that these Games will be his last. Clearly, the greatest Olympian ever has nothing left to prove.
4. Auntie Em! It’s a Derecho!
It came fast out of the Midwest, its crosshairs aimed at Maryland, with winds up to 87 miles per hour. And it came with almost no warning, slamming into the region on the weekend of June 29. Powered by humidity and heat near 100 degrees, it took on the tornado-like characteristics of a so-called derecho, sending century-old trees crashing onto houses, cars, roads, and power lines. About 900,000 utility customers lost power around the state and three people were killed. As the brutal heat continued, the cleanup began. The silence of hundreds of powerless neighborhoods was broken by the sounds of chain saws and utility trucks. In all, it took 10 hot, sticky days for an overwhelmed BGE to get all the lights on again, even with the help of 1,900 utility workers from 18 other states and three Canadian provinces. The good news: The utility was shamed into doing better when Hurricane Sandy hit just north of us in October.
5. Wanna Bet On It?
The controversial opening of the Maryland Live! casino, surreally adjacent to the family-friendly Arundel Mills shopping complex, drew thousands of gamblers and gawkers to its June unveiling. Still, four years after voters passed the Maryland Casino Measure, only three of five authorized slot sites are up and running. Nonetheless, the General Assembly pushed an expanded gambling referendum to ballot this November. No more simply pulling levers and pressing buttons—the referendum called for actual poker, blackjack, and roulette tables. (Also on referendum: a sixth “resort” casino at Prince Georges’ National Harbor.) Dueling gambling interests, Penn National Gaming and MGM, spent upwards of $90 million on TV ads, with Penn National trying to protect their investment in West Virginia and MGM trying to convince Marylanders to keep their gambling money in state. Ultimately, Question 7 passed, 52 to 48 percent and, by early next year, real-live dealers will be at Maryland’s casinos, including a new one to be built near M&T Bank Stadium. Whether any casino revenue goes toward education, as ads promised, remains to be seen.
6. Perry Hall Shooting Caps Off Violent Summer
The headlines came with alarming regularity this summer. Every few days, news broke of yet another random shooting spree, whether it be in a darkened movie theater in Colorado or a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Despite the unnerving media coverage, folks in suburban Perry Hall could be forgiven for thinking they were immune to such tragedies. But then came August 27, the first day of school at Perry Hall High School, when 15-year-old sophomore Robert Wayne Gladden Jr. toted a shotgun into the cafeteria and fired off one shot wounding a 17-year-old classmate before being subdued by teachers and staff. A second shot was accidentally fired during the scuffle. Once the panic subsided, community members were left wondering: Why here? Why him? Why now? Answers have ranged from a troubled home life to retaliation for bullying, but nothing seems to provide a conclusive explanation. Meanwhile, Daniel Borowy, the 17-year-old classmate wounded that day, has made a full recovery, and Gladden awaits trial on 29 counts, including nine charges of attempted murder.
7. Party On, Baltimore
So, we threw this big party, see, to mark the anniversary of something few people know anything about, and guess what? It was a huge hit. The party was, of course, Star-Spangled Sailabration, marking the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, a war that was ended three years later, shortly after a victorious defense of Baltimore, where a ragtag force repulsed a land and sea invasion by crack British forces. But history, shmistory, this was just an excuse to let the good times roll: Something like 1.5 million visitors descended on Baltimore from all over the nation and the world to see parades of tall ships and warships from at least a dozen nations, aerial performances by the Blue Angels, fireworks, patriotic concerts, historic tours and displays, and a festival of high-tech air power that stretched from Fort McHenry to Martin State Airport. The weather was great, the cops were everywhere, and a dandy time was had by all, evidenced by the economic boost the city got of $166-some million. It was such a great event, in fact, that the city plans to do it all again on the actual bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore in 2014.
8. Art Modell Dies
He may’ve been persona non grata in Cleveland, but in Baltimore, Art Modell was a hero. At first, of course, just because he brought NFL football back to this town—finally!—but later because we saw what a good man he really was, a mensch, as he and his beloved wife, Pat, became philanthropic fixtures in the community. Eventually, we took umbrage, on Art’s behalf, over his exclusion from the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. Reasonable people can disagree over why Modell left Cleveland—he insisted it was because the city dragged its feet on building him a new stadium—but all can agree that, as well as being a longtime NFL owner, he was instrumental in the league’s pivotal deal with the television networks. Meanwhile, Art Modell died knowing that his former players loved him—saw him not just as a boss, but as a mentor and father figure. When he left us on September 6 at the age of 87, the players wore “Art” on their uniforms to honor him (classy move, Steve Bisciotti). In their faces, particularly that of Ray Lewis—who also wore AM eye black, risking a fine from the league—we saw the pain of their loss. And we felt it ourselves: For the team, for football, and for all of Baltimore.
9. Off the Beat
The City of Baltimore has chewed up and spit out countless police commissioners in the past couple decades, but one who proved a keeper––and good at the job, too––was Frederick H. Bealefeld III. It’s a position that can turn a fella prematurely gray, which it did to Bealefeld, who announced his resignation from the Baltimore City Police Department in May at age 50, ending a distinguished 31-year career on the force. Named to replace him in August after a national search was former Oakland, CA, police chief Anthony W. Batts. Known for his plain-spoken manner, Bealefeld won kudos for reducing the number of homicides last year to fewer than 200, an accomplishment not seen in 30 years. To hold the position for the five years as he did is no small matter in the history of city police commissioners: No one has survived the pressures of politics, police scandals, and crime longer since Donald D. Pomerleau, who resigned in 1981 after 15 years on the job.
10. Billy Cundiff’s Shank Heard ’round The World
We got this. Our nerves became raw when receiver Lee Evans dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone that would’ve sealed a victory over the dreaded New England Patriots and delivered the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
Pats: 23. Ravens: 20. But the defense held and Joe Flacco, who had been maligned all year for not being sufficiently “elite”––whatever that meant––lived up to his nickname “Joe Cool” and calmly ran a perfect two-minute drill, until the Ravens were on the Pats’ 15-yard line with the clock running out, poised for a game-tying field goal. Thirty-two yards––a gimme, a no-brainer, little more than an extra point––was all that stood between the Ravens and the Super Bowl. We got this. As kicker Billy Cundiff strode behind the line, he heaved a sigh and all of Baltimore sighed with him. He faced the goal post, raised his right foot and kicked. The ball spun and spun––time seemed to briefly stand still as it careened awkwardly toward its target––and . . . inconceivably, impossibly . . . sailed wide left. All of Baltimore cried out in collective agony and the Ravens players stood on the field––numb, slackjawed, watching in amazement as the Patriots celebrated the victory that was supposed to be ours. He missed.
11. Last of the 500’s
It’s official: Now we’re a 100-percent, certified branch-office town. That’s because in March, Constellation Energy, Baltimore’s last remaining Fortune-500 company, was purchased for $7.9 billion by Chicago-based Exelon, creating the nation’s second-largest residential power-distribution company behind North Carolina’s Duke Energy. While Constellation’s weakened condition after the 2008 financial collapse made an acquisition almost inevitable (it had unsuccessfully tried to merge with or be acquired by other companies, including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway), the marriage between it and Exelon was a good fit for competitive reasons. The parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric, Constellation served 1.2 million electric customers and 630,000 gas customers. Merged with Exelon, it now serves 6.6 million customers. One benefit of the union is the combination of Exelon’s numerous power plants with Constellation’s growing business in selling and trading power to large industrial and commercial customers, said Mayo A. Shattuck III, who was Constellation’s chief executive and could easily compete for the boardroom title of “Most Likely to Survive”––he’s now executive chairman of Exelon.
12. Loyola University Soars As Sports Powerhouse
It all started back in March when the Loyola University men’s basketball team won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) final, earning its first bid to the NCAA tournament in nearly 20 years. Alas, the team only lasted one game in the tourney, but that was just the beginning of Loyola’s athletic success. The men’s lacrosse team—which was initially ranked 21st in the preseason poll—was nearly flawless last season (18-1), and it all culminated on May 28 when the team shut down Maryland in the NCAA championship game, garnering the first-ever Division I title for the small, Jesuit school. Clearly, the powers that be were impressed: A few months ago, it was announced that, in 2013-14, Loyola will be leaving the MAAC to become the 10th full member of the elite Patriot League, which includes the likes of Bucknell, Army, Navy, and Boston University.
13. The Walters Longtime Director Bids Adieu
In March, Gary Vikan announced he was leaving The Walters Art Museum after 27 years, 18 as director. During his tenure, Vikan wedded visionary leadership to a get-it-done ethos that, combined with similarly spirited efforts from the likes of Maryland Institute College of Art’s Fred Lazarus and The BMA’s Doreen Bolger, injected spunk and vitality into the cultural community’s top-tier. He helped transform The Walters from a stodgy and insular institution into an experiential and welcoming arts destination that more fully engaged the community. During the Vikan era, The Walters underwent major renovations, endowed 24 key staff positions, partnered and collaborated with local arts institutions, eliminated its admission fee, expanded education programs, developed an impressive online presence (with nearly 2 million annual visitors to its website), and created touring exhibitions seen by more than 3 million people worldwide. As for the future, the 66-year-old Vikan––who will remain in his post to the end of the fiscal year, or his successor comes on board––plans to pursue book projects, work with the Culture and the Arts Program of the Salzburg Global Seminar, and further his interest in brain-science research and the arts. “Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” he says.
14. O’Malley’s March to the White House?
There’s been talk of Martin O’Malley having aspirations for the White House since he was Mayor of Baltimore (heck, since he was a city councilman). But this was the year those aspirations took on a more concrete form. His role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association raised his national profile. He became a fixture on the Sunday talk-show circuit, acting as a lively surrogate for President Barack Obama. He launched a federal PAC. There have been some gaffes along the way: His assertion that America is not better off than it was four years ago was widely pounced on by conservatives (even if he went on to say that the country was heading in the right direction) and his lackluster speech at the Democratic National Convention was overshadowed by the likes of Bill Clinton and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. But O’Malley is on virtually every short list of 2016 contenders, usually mentioned in the same breath as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. All bets are off, of course, if Hillary Clinton decides to run herself. (Ditto on Joe Biden.) O’Malley claims he’s not getting ahead of himself: “I really don’t spend a lot of time working on or focusing on 2016,” he told The Daily Beast in September. Nonetheless, his official candidacy seems like a mere formality at this point.
15. VEEP brings television back to Baltimore
Hollywood by the bay? That may be stretching it. But Baltimore is definitely back in (show) business thanks to the HBO series Veep and Netflix’s House of Cards, which filmed in the area throughout 2012. Both come with excellent pedigrees. Veep stars a murderer’s row of comedy vets including Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the titular VP, Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, and My Girl’s Anna Chlumsky. House of Cards, which premieres in early 2013, has even bigger names attached with David Fincher (The Social Network) producing and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright starring in the political potboiler. It’s too soon to tell how House of Cards will fare, but Veep has already done a world of good for Baltimore, bringing an estimated $30 million to the area and providing employment for a crew who struggled after The Wire wrapped five years ago. It’s also done pretty well for itself, collecting three Emmy nominations (including a win for Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and earning a second season from HBO, which is currently filming now around town.
16. Goodbye, Scunny
More than 2,000 mourners gathered August 29 at the Baltimore funeral of restaurateur Patrick “Scunny” McCusker, who was killed while riding a bicycle in Ocean City. Even before the funeral, a couple hundred people congregated at O’Donnell Square when news of his death began circulating around town to share stories about the popular 49-year-old owner of Nacho Mama’s and Mama’s on the Half Shell in Canton. “There was nobody like Scunny,” said Dave Claybough, a longtime friend. “He loved a good adventure, and he was generous, raising money for charitable causes.” In that spirit, several Canton restaurants honored Scunny by donating 30 percent of their daily sales on August 29 to the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Scunny championed. The father of two was also a great proponent of Canton, opening Nacho Mama’s in 1994 as a sign of faith in the fledgling neighborhood’s vitality. In an interview, he told Baltimore, “I have original customers of mine bringing in their grandkids now––which is a testament to the fact that people don’t just live here, they stay here.” We know it’s where Scunny’s spirit will always live on, too.
17. Shopping Boom in Harbor East
The wait seemed endless, but when J.Crew, Anthropologie, MAC Cosmetics, and Lululemon Athletica finally arrived in Harbor East last summer and fall, it all felt worth it. Downtown finally had some trendy national retail shops to call its own. But how did Harbor East retail stalwarts like Urban Chic, Patrick Sutton Home, Amaryllis Jewelry, South Moon Under, Handbags in the City, and Sassanova feel about this invasion? Thrilled actually. Many shop owners privately told us that they’d been waiting since 2007 for these specific stores to pop up, thus creating a true destination shopping-and-dining district. And despite the newcomers being national brands, most have managed to incorporate Baltimore touches—a Domino Sugar display here; a Ravens and Orioles homage there—to endear themselves to the locals. With Harbor East growing by the minute, we wouldn’t be surprised if we started hearing whispers of more big name retailers coming soon. Next time, we’ll try to be patient.
18. Ellicott City Train Crash Takes Two Young Lives
It could have been a scene from a coming-of-age film: Two high-school friends, ready to return to their respective colleges, were spending one of their waning summer nights hanging out on the old railroad bridge in their hometown of Ellicott City. The girls, Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Louese Mayr, both 19, tweeted that they were “drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign” and “Looking down on old ec,” even posting a picture of their legs dangling off the side of the bridge. Sometime later, just before midnight on August 20, a CSX freight train bound for Baltimore came down the tracks, derailed, and sent coal raining down on the girls and the town’s Main Street. The girls were found still sitting on the tracks, buried in coal, having suffocated. Ellicott City was in shock, hundreds of mourners turned out for each funeral, and the town needed $2.2 million worth of cleanup. As the investigation into the derailment continues, attention is being paid to track maintenance, but no definitive answer is expected for months.
19. Vi Ripken Kidnapped (and Returned Unharmed)
When news first broke on a July morning that the 74-year-old Ripken matriarch was missing, we felt a collective lump of concern in our throats. Vi isn’t just Cal and Billy’s mom—and Cal Sr.’s widow—she’s like one of our longtime neighbors. After all, she still lives in the Aberdeen home where she raised the pair of Orioles infielders. But when the news changed, and we learned that Vi had been kidnapped at gunpoint and then was safely returned home 24 hours later—our worry turned to a kind of surreal confusion. Cal’s mom abducted? Forced into her Lincoln Town Car and driven around Central Maryland all night? Did the kidnapper know who she was? Meanwhile, Aberdeen police still haven’t found a motive for the kidnapping, or made an arrest.
20. Grand Prix Sputters on Second Run
Everyone has a theory as to why the Grand Prix flopped this year. Maybe Baltimore tired of the flood of bad news. (Following the inaugural Grand Prix in 2011, the media was rife with stories about besieged organizers failing to pay their debts and taxes, not to mention earlier reports regarding city expenditures for roadwork and, of all things, cutting down trees to accommodate spectators.) Maybe attendance sputtered because there wasn’t a draw like Danica Patrick. Maybe the novelty simply wore off. Maybe it was the expected rain. Maybe it was the unexpected Orioles, still in late-season contention. Or maybe the Labor Day weekend crowds never materialized because the new race organizers, Andretti Sports Marketing and Race On LLC, got a late start promoting the race. Whatever the reason, after huge, enthusiastic crowds last year, Baltimore just couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for this year’s event. Nonetheless, Baltimore City and Andretti Sports Marketing and Race On LLC inked a deal to bring it back for another run. Another down year and Grand Prix racing likely strikes out in Charm City.