Fans go to extra innings for cherished autographs

November 25, 1991|By Greg Tasker Reporter David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

Clearly, baseball fan Brian Lupus places great credence in the time-worn adage about the early bird getting the worm, especially when it comes to snatching a Baltimore Oriole's autograph.

That's why Mr. Lupus, a 19-year-old from Fallston, lined up outside Baltimore's Festival Hall for 12 hours -- spending an entire night out there on the sidewalk, bundled in his winter coat and chatting with other hard-core baseball fans.

That was so he could be right near the front when doors opened yesterday morning for thousands of autograph-seekers attending Day 2 of the Cal Ripken Jr. Winterfest for Literacy '91.

"I've been to baseball card shows before, but I've never slept out overnight for one," Mr. Lupus said. "I've never seen anything like this. People were lined up when we got here about 9:30" Saturday night.

Well before noon yesterday, Mr. Lupus, a physical therapy major at the University of Maryland-College Park, bounced out of Festival Hall $68 poorer -- but carrying Cal Ripken Jr.'s signature on a Memorial Stadium souvenir poster and an 8-by-10-inch glossy. He also secured autographs from Kirby Puckett of the 1991 world championship Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers (and ex-Orioles) first baseman Eddie Murray.

Others, like Sandy Sacki of Owings Mills, weren't so lucky. Although Mrs. Sacki and her husband arrived when the doors opened Sunday, they weren't able to get a Ripken autograph.

"I'm disappointed Cal Ripken's autographs are sold out," said Mrs. Sacki, a real estate broker and a longtime Orioles fan. "I brought all my Cal Ripken stuff for nothing."

Still, she said, "I think he's great. I really like the image he sets for kids."

The 1,200 tickets for Mr. Ripken's autograph -- at $9 a pop -- were gone by 11 a.m., just as they had sold out Saturday, at the opening of the weekend event.

It was the quick sellout of Ripken tickets and the disappointment -- even heartbreak -- for young fans who had waited in vain on the first day that brought many back downtown with the fervor to camp out all night if necessary.

At 3:30 a.m., the line was more than a block long -- with dozens of people sleeping on the sidewalk or lawn chairs, blankets tight to their chins or even over their heads. Fathers cuddled with sons, and a few teens played catch with a football.

"If it wasn't a one-time thing, I'd never be doing this," said Douglas McClain, 32, an addiction counselor from Catonsville, curling up under a purple comforter, his head on a vinyl bar stool top. He was staking out a place in line for 9-year-old Doug Jr., who was to arrive at 8 a.m. in search of a Kirby Puckett signature.

But the American League MVP was the draw for many of the estimated 16,000 people who attended the two-day event. Attendance far exceeded organizers' expectations, said Diane Hock, a Baltimore attorney who coordinated the fund-raiser for the future Hall of Fame shortstop.

Admission, autograph and silent auction proceeds raised about $200,000 for the Ripken Learning Center, the Baltimore facility that Mr. Ripken and his wife, Kelly, established to teach adults to read.

"As a baseball player, I was never comfortable with memorabilia and autograph shows that generate profits for players and promoters," Mr. Ripken said in a prepared statement.

"However, I do think that the current interest in autographs and memorabilia provides the perfect opportunity to host an event that can channel those funds to what I believe is a very worthwhile project, teaching adults to read."

Donations to the auction included a Kevin Costner-autographed Cal Ripken Jr. bat, a Bo Jackson football and Sugar Ray Leonard boxing gloves. Players, who signed autographs on everything from baseball bats to posters, donated their time.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Orioles coach Cal Ripken Sr., eyeing the crowd inside Festival Hall. The elder Ripken also signed autographs -- at $8 for pop -- for an hour yesterday.

Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer's signature fetched the highest price -- $10 -- during his hourlong appearance Saturday.

Cal Jr., as he's referred to by many fans in Baltimore, had no trouble recruiting teammates and peers, organizers and players said.

"He doesn't ever ask for much," said Gregg Olson, who also was impressed with the larger-than-expected turnout. "So when he does, it's usually for a good cause -- something like this. He didn't have any trouble recruiting me."

The not-for-profit spin attracted 28-year-old Barry Lupus of Edgewood, who braved 45-degree temperatures to spend the night in line with this brother, Brian.

"One of the big reasons I came was because it was for charity," said Mr. Lupus, a Blue Cross-Blue Shield service representative. "I don't like the fact that someone can make $3 million and charge for an autograph. I feel these guys should give something back to the community."

Mr. Lupus spent $18 for Cal Jr.'s signatures on a poster and an 8-by-10-inch glossy for his 6-month-old son, Andrew. "I was interested in getting more signatures, but I didn't want to spend too much money," Mr. Lupus said. "It's cutting into my Christmas money."

Learning Center

The Ripken Learning Center at 2433-35 N. Calvert St. was opened two years ago by Baltimore Reads Inc., funded initially by a $250,000 grant from Kelly and Cal Ripken Jr.

Baltimore Reads is an umbrella agency that oversees efforts to improve adult literacy.

In addition to grants from other donors, the center was supported this year through "Reading, Runs and Ripken," a fund-raising campaign in which the public was invited to make pledges based on the number of Mr. Ripken's home runs -- which turned out to be a career-best 34, accounting for more than $100,000 in donations.

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