Monday, August 18, 2008

Baltimore Pride Shines Brightly for Mighty Michael Phelps

Every day, the local rag screams another headline, each progressively larger in typeset and accompanying illustrative fist pump.

"Phelps' Voyage"



Local TV station WBAL is saturated in Michael Mania. All night long, the station broadcasts little else but the latest Bob Costas interview interspersed with Phelps' one one-hundredth of a second squeaker. Ratings trackers estimate market share near the level of a Super Bowl or American Idol finale. That's an awful lot of Pigtown TVs tuned to Channel 11.

Perhaps nothing is more testament to the electricity in the hot sticky than last Saturday's capacity crowd waiting overtime for a glimpse of his historic last relay. If ever a sea of purple demonstrated love for a hometown hero, those cheering faces on the giant screen said it all.

Do we feel betrayed by Phelps' prior move to Michigan? Naw. We all knew he was Baltimore bred and buttered. Phelps said himself that he misses the corny dialect and sidewalk establishments throughout town. Take for instance the little known breakfast establishment in the video. Can anyone still find a corner breakfast tavern like that in a big metropolitan city? Phelps shares that level of love with so many other Baltimoreans. Attached at the hip. Not ready to cut the cord.

Learning the news about Phelps and his coach moving back to the area was like absorbing a sudden bolt of lightening. Unexpected and shocking, yet strangely fascinating. Like being locked in a grip of connectedness no one quite understands and generally tries to avoid, but somehow loving every minute of it.

For a short time, Baltimore will not be the same. I don't think this town is ready for the inevitable crush of media. Ironman Cal Ripken, hometown hero that he is, is sensational and mind-numbingly popular, but I'm sure he never endured the deluge of reporters ready to descend on Phelps. Michael Phelps stands alone in athletic greatness. Ripken is more national superstar. Phelps: World phenomenon.

Some say Phelps' accomplishments this year in Beijing will be near impossible to duplicate. Increased competition, better training, better strides in swimwear as well as other factors will work in tandem, lessening the possibility for eight medals in a single Olympics.

So, at the tender age of 23, Michael Phelps may well have achieved something future generations will not. Knowing how Baltimore has buzzed about little else for a full week, I can only imagine the weight his broad shoulders now carry. He may be used to occupying the spotlight, but it may have never burned as brightly.

Let's hope Phleps can keep his meteoric rise in perspective. Lord knows, Charm City can't.