When Cal Ripken Jr. didn't get the Gold Glove award for "best fielder in his position" last season, Ripken Fan Club members corrected what they viewed as a foul play by taking matters into their own hands.
The Aberdeen-based club created its own trophy and awarded it to the Orioles shortstop during the club's annual banquet last December at the Moose Lodge in Aberdeen.
"Junior should have gotten the award, especially when he had onlythree errors all year and Ozzie had 17," said Cecil County resident George Travers, vice president of the fan club, referring to Ozzie Guillen, the Chicago White Sox shortstop who earned the Gold Glove lastyear.
"Cal knows just where the pitcher's going to throw the ball, but he's not as flashy a player as Ozzie," said Travers, who's beena Ripken fan since the 1930s when Cal Ripken Sr., now Orioles third base coach, played amateur baseball with the Aberdeen Susquehanna League.
Travers' support and enthusiasm for the Ripken family, three members of which are part of the Orioles baseball organization, is shared by all members of the small club formed in 1983 by Aberdeen resident Ruth Burnette, friend of the Ripken family for more than 20 years.
Honored by the club are Cal Ripken Sr., at one point the Orioles manager; Cal Ripken Jr., shortstop; and Bill Ripken, who plays second base.
"It seemed only natural to start a fan club for Cal Jr. when he made it to the big leagues," said Burnette, the fan club's president.
"Once Billy got accepted into the league, it seemed like agood idea to include both Billy and Cal Sr. in the club," Burnette said.
That's why the club changed its original name from the Cal Ripken Jr. Fan Club to the Ripken Fan Club.
With baseball spring training in full swing, the club is also gearing up for another Orioles season when members can show their support for the Ripkens. The club is also seeking new members; it is open to people of all ages.
While the club does not organize trips to Orioles games on a regular basis, it does print and sell Ripken Fan Club T-shirts, which have become collector's items among some baseball aficionados.
For the $20 first-year membership ($15 annual renewal), members get a T-shirt withthe Ripkens on it, a photograph of the Ripkens, and a membership card.
"Each year we come up with a different T-shirt design," Burnette said.
This year's features the Ripkens' individually, rather than grouped, as on last year's shirt.
Burnette said she coordinates the mailing of the T-shirts so members have them in time to wear to the Opening Day game, which this year comes April 8, against Chicago.
"Collectors prefer to save their T-shirts rather than wear them," she said.
The club's big annual event is its December banquet to honor the Ripkens. The entire family turns out to autograph items, including baseballs, cards and caps, for those who attend. Fans come from as far away as Florida and New York. Although the club has about 100 members, some 200 people attend the banquet.
"It's one of the few events the Ripkens don't have to get all dressed up for in a tux," Burnette said. "And they know they can relax."
Philip Kim of Aberdeen, a sophomore at John Carroll School in Bel Air, has been a club member since he was 9 years old.
"The Ripkens are a really great family," Kim said. "I feel like I've gotten to know them a little better each year by getting to talk to them in person at the banquet."
Aberdeen resident Jennifer Garner, 16, joined the club when it was first formed. She said she likes it because she gets to see her favorite Ripken, Cal Jr., every year at the banquet.
"I like seeing all the Ripkens," she said. "But I especially like getting my picture taken with Cal Jr."
Burnette said the fan club has no formal meetings,but she hopes the day comes when the club can plan other events besides the annual banquet.
"The fans really look forward to the banquet," she said. "Too many people would be disappointed if we didn't have that."
Burnette takes her obsession home. One room of her Aberdeen house is like an Orioles museum; her impressive collection of Oriole memorabilia covers just about every square inch of space in it.
Ripken fans interested in joining the club may write to Ruth Burnette, Ripken Fan Club, 826 Lynn Lee Drive, Aberdeen, 21001.