Whether you’re a channel-surfing couch potato or a balls-to-the-wall weekend warrior, Baltimore, Maryland is the sportsman or sportswoman’s paradise. For the “I’d rather watch” set, the Baltimore Ravens are perennial powerhouses and the Orioles have gone from upstarts to established contenders, making Baltimore the City that Reads the Box Scores with a big fat smile on our melons. If you’re the sort who’d rather play, well you’re still in luck. Baltimore is home to thriving sports leagues for children of all ages and, for the outdoor types, Maryland has over 96,000 acres of state parks encompassing mountains, forests, rivers, the bay, and the ocean. To put that in perspective, that’s big enough to hold 96,000 single acre yards! Maryland may be America in Miniature, but when it comes to sports and rec, we take it to the max.
Sports to Watch
This would could go under the “no shit” category when it comes to watching sports in Baltimore. Frankly, you’d really have to go out of your way to avoid watching the Ravens in this town, which is a good thing. Home games make for a great reason to drink with 70,000 of your closest friends and away games are a great excuse to scream at your TV. And other than duck hunting in Prince’s basement, Ravens games are the single most appropriate place to wear purple camouflage. Still not convinced? Here’s a bonus reason: The Baltimore accent and the name “Flacco” are the best match since peanut butter and chocolate.
You know there’s a bar in the outfield now, right? So you can sit on a bar stool and watch the game on a big screen while you wait for your beer then, once you get said beer, you can turn around and watch the actual game. It’s pretty much perfect. Doesn’t hurt that the O’s have been one of the better teams in baseball these last few years. If you can’t make it to the park, though, you’ve still got options. Catch a game on MASN and soak in the knowledge dropped by Jim Palmer, one of the best color men in the business, or tune in to WBAL-AM and let Joe Angel invade your ear-hole. That man has a voice like summer itself.
Charm City Roller Girls
If you love NASCAR but think it needs more women and fewer cars, then roller derby is the sport for you! The Charm City Roller Girls have become an institution in this town since they started in 2005, and just like Dale Sr., they’ve done it by trading paint through the corners and without even once turning right. Take it in as a spectator, or check their website for Charm School open tryouts for women over 18 and see if you’ve got what it takes to be a roller person.
Flat Track Motorcycle Racing
2200 York Road, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093, bctra.com
Forget Talladega and the Indy 500, the most American motor sport is flat-track motorcycling, hands down (or, more accurately, knees down). After a brief hiatus, the Baltimore Country Trail Riders Association (BCTRA) is bringing flat track back to Timonium Fairgrounds and we couldn’t be happier. Classes range from little kids on 50cc bikes to pros tearing around on 450cc race-built monsters shoulder to shoulder and bike to bike, and the short track keeps all the action right in front of you. It’s like NASCAR on two wheels, in the dirt, and with the ability to punch riders who get in your way. BCTRA holds the Timonium races outdoors in July and August and indoors in December. Check their website for dates.
Pimlico Race Course/The Preakness Stakes
Want to hear shitty music while all of Towson gets plowed around you? Head to the infield! We won’t blame you. Everybody loves a spectacle. Want to watch some of the finest athletes on the planet on their biggest stage in an event with an almost 150 year tradition? Spring for the grand stand. Maybe this’ll be the year we get a Triple Crown winner and you’ll be able to say you were there. And don’t forget, the track is open on other days, too. Pimlico hosts about 35 days of racing a year, so if you’re bored on any given day, there’s a 10 percent chance there’s racing going on, though the odds go up considerably on Thursdays to Sundays from April to June. A day at the track is about as Baltimore as it gets.
Bummed you’re gonna have to wait four years for the next World Cup and find the idea of driving to Washington, D.C. on par with being boiled alive while lost in a traffic circle? Check out the Baltimore Blast of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). No, they don’t arrive in a UFO anymore, but it’s still a, well, blast. Blast games are great for the kids and the team has been to nine of the last 12 MISL championships and won six. There’s nothing like rooting for a winner. Oh, and do you know what indoor soccer doesn’t have? Ties. That’s right, America took soccer and made it a sport.
University of Maryland vs. Penn State Football
The Terps have been playing the Nittany Lions for a long time, but as far as rivalries go, it’s been about as competitive as the Harlem Globetrotters/Washington Generals. Since their first meeting in 1917 the series stands at 35-1-1 with the Terps’ only victory coming way back in 1961, but there’s reason to hope. The Terps are moving to the Big Ten Conference and hoping to finally become a player in the world of big-time college football—and there’s a rumor going around that, if the Terps win, Penn State will tell us what a Nittany is. Even if they don’t win, there’s a good chance Under Armour will fire up one of their insane, one-off Maryland Flag uniforms, which we guess is a good thing.
Sports to Play
Skeeball/Baltimore Barskee League
Want to play sports but don’t really want to play sports? Skeeball is the pretend sport for you! The league is for teams of five to 12 players and seasons last six weeks. That’s six weeks you and your friends can get drunk with a purpose. True, that purpose is rolling a ball up a ramp into a series of holes, a game that most people outgrow by the time they are 9, but did we mention they play at bars? It’s like being on the boardwalk in Ocean City without all of the Confederate flag T-shirts and opportunities to buy hermit crabs.
As we all know, big-ball bowling, known to the rest of the world as “tenpin bowling” or “bowling,” is a minor form of sacrilege and every time you put your fingers in a bowling ball, the ghost of Lord Calvert cries. The only real bowling is duckpin bowling, which is a more perfect metaphor for life. Is life perfect? Nope. Has anyone ever bowled a perfect game of ducks? Nope. Case closed. Sadly, Baltimore’s duckpin lanes have been steadily disappearing, but the Patterson Bowling Center has been around since 1927 and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Make the trip, bring a six-pack, and revel in the chance to rent shoes.
Bocce Ball/Little Italy’s Bocce Leagues
902 Stiles St., littleitalymd.com/t/little_italy_bocce_league
Bocce is the Platonic ideal of sport. Bocce combines the best of lawn bowling with angry gesturing and cursing in Italian. Leagues are popping up all over town, but playing bocce in the park is small time. For the serious enthusiast there’s only one place to play: the courts in Little Italy. The surface is immaculate and frequently watered, raked, and loved, and the games are serious. Little Italy Bocce Leagues runs games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the Italian American Bocce League has the courts on Thursdays, but you can check out a game during the Saint Anthony’s or Saint Gabriel festivals to get a taste.
Karting/Autobahn Indoor Speedway
So this one’s a bit outside of town, but if you really want to drive, you’re gonna have to drive. The track is massive, covering 70,000 square feet, and the karts are fast, with adult karts hitting 50 mph. With the Baltimore Grand Prix nothing more than a horrible memory, this is the best racing (near) town. Autobahn has leagues, but you can just show up and drive or rent the whole place, and after driving out to Jessup, you’ll have worked up enough road rage to really enjoy the karts.
Golf the Classic Five
Most people don’t think of Baltimore as a golfing destination, but with the city’s municipal golf, known as Baltimore’s Classic Five, that should probably change. One of the great things about our town is there’s still great opportunities to hit the links without hitting the highways and if you’re not a duffer but want to hit something with a club, there’s even a driving range. Sure, Pine Ridge is in the county, but the other four are right here in the city, so we’ll give that one a pass. Carroll Park (2100 Washington Blvd.  685-8344); Forest Park (2900 Hillsdale Road  448-4635); Clifton Park (270 St. Lo Drive  243-3500); Mount Pleasant Golf Course (6001 Hillen Road  254-5100); Pine Ridge Golf Course and Driving Range (2101 Dulaney Valley Road  252-1408).
The Dominic “Mimi” DePietro Family Ice Skating Rink in Patterson Park
200 S. Linwood Ave., (410) 396-9392
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you’ve got to curl up indoors and wait for summer, and from October through the end of March, you can get your ice on for a cool $4. The rink is home to ice hockey, broom ball, and sled hockey (whatever the hell that is) and has been a Baltimore institution since 1968.
Parks and Green Spaces in the City
2400 E. Fort Ave., (410) 962-4290, nps.gov/fomc/index.htm
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the National Anthem and yada, yada, yada, the defense of Baltimore. We’re over it, but Fort McHenry is also an amazing place to take a walk. Forget D.C., the fort has cherry blossoms down, the open fields are great for picnics, and the park is easily the best kiting spot in the city. The views from the ramparts are spectacular; on one side you’ve got the harbor and on the other is ‘Orpheus with the Awkward Foot,’ a 24-foot-tall nude man playing the harp which is simultaneously one of the greatest pieces of public art on Earth and hands down the most head scratching war memorial ever built. And oh yeah, the National Anthem.
27 S. Patterson Park Ave., (410) 276-3676, pattersonpark.com
Patterson Park has been a refuge for Baltimoreans since 1827 and it’s no wonder. If you’re feeling leisurely, Patterson Park has you covered with the historic Pagoda and its commanding views of the city, summer concerts and outdoor movies, green fields for strolling, a stocked lake for fishing, and, with over 200 species documented by the Audubon Society, some of the best urban birding anywhere. For the more active sorts there’s an ice skating rink for the winter, tennis courts, a public pool, and basketball courts that are home to some of the best pickup games on the planet.
Median Strip Springlake Way
5200-5300 Springlake Way
The only median strip on this list might seem out of place, until you’ve been there. The strip is really a park with tiers of koi-filled ponds cascading through little waterfalls and bronze statues of prancing children and woodland creatures. Most easily found while terribly lost on the way to Towson, this little park is a great reason to keep a sack of dry corn handy. When you end up here accidentally you can take a few minutes to feed the ducks.
The Waterfront Promenade
Ever wonder why people vacation in Baltimore? This is why. With seven miles of brick trails running from Federal Hill to Canton, the promenade is a great way to take in the city skyline. Perfect for running, biking, or taking the long way between your favorite bars, the promenade is more than just a place to take visiting relatives, it’s a place every Baltimorean should visit at least one day a year.
4100 St. Paul St., (410) 785-0444, guilfordassociation.org/sherwood
Perhaps the best picnic spot in town, the little park hidden between St. Paul and York Road is one of Baltimore’s secret treasures. With over 80,000 tulips planted each year, the classically styled gardens are the perfect place to live out your Great Gatsby fantasy.
Druid Hill Park
2600 Madison Avenue, (410) 396-6106, druidhillpark.org
This is the Swiss Army knife of Baltimore parks. It’s got one pool full of water and a second pool where the water part is now filled with grass, a zoo, a conservatory, a Frisbee golf course, picnic pavilions, running trails, a farmers market, exercise equipment for adults, playgrounds for kids—heck, it even has a little town called Safety City where kids learn the police are their friends, unless they jaywalk. On top of all that, Druid Hill Park is one of the most happening places in town on any summer weekend with music, vendors, and more people enjoying the outdoors than anywhere else in town.
Gwynns Falls/ Leakin Park
1900 Eagle Drive, baltimorecity.gov
Thanks to Orioles legend Eddie Murray, these parks have an amazing nature center where you can get up close and personal with wildlife, which is pretty cool. Even cooler, the park has a train which, if you’re 9 years old, makes this about the coolest spot in town. But the conjoined parks also cover a daunting 1,216 acres with miles of trails for hiking and biking. It’s the perfect place for you to do your “Stand By Me” reenactments. Walk long enough and you’ll probably find a body too.
James W. Rouse Memorial Observation Deck at Round Falls
Round Falls, baltimorecity.gov
Follow the pedestrian ramp down from the Stieff Silver building, cross Falls Road, and march into the woods and you’ll find the James W. Rouse Memorial Observation Deck. Just don’t go alone. Yes, it’s creepy as hell down there, but the view is worth it. Ignore the trash and the fact that there’s enough graffiti that it may actually be a structural element, because the view from the platform is amazing. Perched out over the river just below the falls, the platform has a commanding view of nesting yellow-crowned herons and the occasional insane kayaker, but the best time to take in the spot is after a big rain. There’s no better place to remember that the JFX has a real live river beneath it.
Parks and Green Spaces Outside the City
Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road Jarrettsville, MD, (410) 557-7994, dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/rocks.aspx
Rocks State Park has all the stuff you’d expect from a big Harford County park. There’s Deer Creek which is full of fish and alternately babbles gently and rages majestically, great picnic areas, and plenty of hiking, but the real reason to head out to Rock is the King and Queen Seat. The rocky outcropping towers 190 feet above the creek, making it one of the best hike destinations in the state. One warning: The park also allows bow hunting of deer, so don’t go dressed as a deer.
Patapsco Valley State Park
8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, MD, (410) 461-5005 dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/patapsco.aspx
This is the grand-daddy of Baltimore area parks. The 16,043-acre park extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River with 170 miles of trails. That’s more miles than most Americans will walk in six lifetimes, so there’s plenty to do. Patapsco offers pavilions, camping, horseback riding, remarkable mountain biking, and the legendary Swinging Bridge just 20 minutes from downtown.
Robert E. Lee Park
Falls Road and Lakeside Drive, (410) 887-4156, pawpoint.org
Why we have a park still named after a Southern general is a question for another time; you can just call it the dog park. Robert E. Lee Park has got plenty of trails and great hiking, but it’s also got Paw Point, the premier dog beach in Baltimore. OK, it’s also the only dog beach in Baltimore, so if you want to take Fido for a dip, this is your spot. Membership is $35 a year for two dogs. Remember to register in advance, because you can’t join at the park.
Where to Get Wet
City Swimming Pools
There is a thin blue line between Baltimore and chaos and it ain’t the police, it’s the city’s municipal pools. With six huge Park Pools and a dozen smaller neighborhood pools, you’re always close to a cheap place to take a dip, which is important in a city that routinely reaches 1500 degrees. Great for laps, even better for kids, the city pools are a great place to get mostly naked and soaking wet with your neighbors.
Gunpowder Falls State Park: Hammerman Area
7400 Graces Quarters (Park Drive), Chase, MD, (877) 620-8367, http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/gunpowderhammerman.aspx
If you want to get your swim on, there’s no better place than Hammerman which has an actual beach. That’s right, a short trip out 40 will get you to 1,500 feet of white sand along the Gunpowder. The Hammerman has lifeguarded beaches, excellent fishing, and even a sailboat and windsurfer rental in case you’re living in 1993. Perhaps the coolest thing at Hammerman, however, is the tiny deer. Go on a slow day in the fall and the place is full of deer the size of German Shepherds, and since there’s no hunting, you can get close enough to get hoofed in the stomach before you chicken out. It’s just $3 per person, so pack up the family trickster and head for the river.
Rocky Point Beach and Park
2200 Rocky Point Road, (410) 887-2818, baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/programdivision/naturearea/rockypoint/
The blue-green waters of the bay meet this little forest-nestled beach in a place called Essex. Shocking? Yes. Amazing? Also yes. Open to swimming from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Rocky Point sits on 375 bayfront acres with a 300-foot sandy beach, boat ramps, plenty of picnic areas, and pavilions you can reserve for any occasion. We suggest you buy a few dozen crabs and think up an occasion; even the drive is worth it. County or not, by the time you get there, you won’t believe you’re still in Baltimore.
Before Baltimore became the city of sinkholes, we were a town with some of the best swimmin’ holes around. Sure, you could just wait for a stiff rain to collapse the street in front of your house, but if you want to try something a bit safer, hit one of the area’s fantastic swimmin’ holes. And remember, don’t pronounce the “g.” If you call them swimming holes, they will kick you out. Here’s a partial list: Oregon Ridge Beach in Cockeysville (13401 Beaver Dam Road,  887-1817, baltimorecountymd.gov);Beaver Dam Swim Club (10820 Beaver Dam Road,  785-2323, beaverdamswimmingclub.com), also in Cockeysville; Rocks State Park (dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/rocks.asp ) in Harford County; Milford Mill Swim Club (swimpark.org), northwest of the city and possibly the best of the bunch; Cascade Lake (3000 Snydersburg Road,  374-9111, cascadelake.com) way out in Carroll County.
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