The last time Michael Phelps came home with a bunch of Olympic medals, his hometown of Towson, Maryland, honored him with a "Phelpstival," including a parade, the keys to the city, and a street named Michael Phelps Way. Now that he's moved up from American Olympic hero to international sports icon, expectations for his homecoming are ramping up as well. The governor has issued a proclamation, but, as a Maryland resident, I'm wondering when there might be a tribute of a more permanent nature.
Let's look at what's been done for other Baltimore sports heroes. Cal Ripken has a section of Interstate 395 near Camden Yards named for him. There's also Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland. Johnny Unitas Stadium is the home of the Towson University Tigers. Babe Ruth has a statue at Camden Yards. For some reason, Brooks Robinson's statue is in York, Pennsylvania.
That's it? Stadiums, streets, statues? Surely we can do better than that. This needs some creativity. I called the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Apparently they have a new baby dolphin that needs a name. Any chance they'll name it after our Aquaman? Well, it's a girl, so maybe they'll go with Michelle Phelps. Or they could do that trendy last name for a first name thing and just name her Phelps.
Okay, forget the dolphin. Baltimore is famous for its Inner Harbor. I say we name the whole thing after Phelps. Or maybe the Harbor Tunnel, since it goes under the water. I don't think the bridges are available; we already gave one to Francis Scott Key. Or we could go more local; Phelps grew up in a Towson neighborhood called Rodgers Forge. Why not just change the name to Michael Phelps? For a more suburban feel, how about Michael Phelps at Rodgers Forge? If Rodgers Forge doesn't want the name, maybe the town of Accident in Western Maryland would be interested? Or Intercourse, Pennsylvania?
Renaming an entire town for a sports legend might sound absurd, but it's not unprecedented. In 1953, the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged and renamed themselves Jim Thorpe to honor one of America's greatest sports heroes. Thorpe's only connection to the two towns is that he is buried there.
On the topic of sports legends, yesterday Chris Chase speculated that Phelps could become only the fifth subject to grace the covers of TIME, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week; I'm told that this is unlikely because Newsweek will be featuring Barack Obama's pick for Vice President. That's too bad. Unless ... wait a second ... Phelps is scheduled to return to the United States today. Obama is announcing his choice today. Coincidence? Now that would be a hot ticket.
This is going to be tougher than I thought. Maybe we should treat the Phelps naming like a draft pick. If we can't find a good match here, we'll have to trade the pick. And I think I know just the place for him. The name Phelps fits much better in our border state than in Maryland. You could go with Phelpsidelphia or even Phelpsylvania. So it looks like we need to negotiate a deal: how about Phelps and Key for Doctor J, Ben Franklin, and Rocky Balboa? We'll throw in Omar from "The Wire" just to clear some cap space.
Photo via Bill Fitzgerald