Just seconds after the special announcement began, Barbara Menegatti was out of her seat shouting, "I knew it, I knew it." What she "knew" was that Cal Ripken had signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract. And, camera in hand, Menegatti scrambled toward the screen behind home plate to catch on film Ripken's reaction as it was announced to the crowd.
"It's just great, just great," Menegatti, of Baltimore, said after returning to her seat. "I'm a Ripken fan and a Ripken family fan. They contribute a lot on and off the field and I'm just delighted."
That was the gist of the reaction upon Ripken's finally ending the season-long contract negotiations to sign a contract that, in its final year, will pay Ripken $6.2 million. Ripken received a modest -- although not overwhelming -- standing ovation from many of the sellout crowd at Oriole Park.
"I think it's great that they're keeping him here because he's an institution," said Rick Shover, of Harrisburg, Pa., who attended the game with his older brother, Brad. "He's worth more than that. He's every bit the player that [Ryne] Sandberg is. Sure it's a lot of money, compared to what I make. But in a free market enterprise, it's fair."
Melvin Smothers, 56, of Cherry Hill, was happy the Orioles organization finally decided to keep "our home boys" playing on the team.
"He's an important player because he makes the team move," Smothers said. "They should have signed him earlier. I think now he's going to produce more. Baltimore's never been known for having high- salary ballplayers and, with this deal, it helps show you'll be rewarded."
For 15-year-old Stacie Sanders, of Pasadena, the signing of Ripken took much too long.
"It's about time," said Sanders, who hung a "Happy Birthday Cal" banner in front of her seat down the right-field line. "This [sign] shows how much I'm in love with Cal. I gave him a rose for his birthday."
Her father, David Sanders, with his emotions a little more in check than Stacie's, said the signing was a smart move.
"Last year, he won MVP and now he's getting what he deserved," David Sanders said. "The salaries overall are much too high, but what are you going to do?"
In the standing room section above the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, fans who paid $3 for a partial view of the game applauded the deal.
"It's excellent -- he's an excellent player," said Scott Crichton, 25, of Houston. "It's great for the city and great for the team. But everyone's getting outrageous amounts, and the fans are going to pay for it in the end."
Steve Susce, who abandoned his box seat to watch the game while standing on a concrete barrier in the center-field picnic area "where it's not smelly and people don't sweat on me," said Ripken deserves every cent.
"Look at the 45,000 people here -- they're all here to see him," said Susce, of Richmond, Va. "Sure, the contract talks probably affected him. But he'll be back."
Ken Sullivan, 26, of Baltimore, predicts that Ripken's season-long lack of productivity will come to a halt with the new contract.
"Now he can concentrate on the game and not think about it all the time," Sullivan said. "He's said most of the year that it hadn't been bothering him, but it has. . . .This is where he's from, and where he wants to be."
Mike Sargent, of Towson, had visions of Ripken playing next season in Dodger blue, enjoying the sunshine of California.
"I just thought they weren't going to sign him and that he was going to take off," Sargent said. "I'm not surprised that people didn't come down on him more during his slump. Baltimore fans are the most tolerant in the world. He's lucky he's not in Boston or New York -- they would have tore him up."
Last night, several fans at Camden Yards did just that.
"That's too much, way too much," said Jay Johnson, who recently moved to Washington from Connecticut. "He had a good year last year, and a lot of mediocre years before that. Look at what happened to Eddie Murray when they ran him out of here. They didn't want to give him the money."
Joe Mobley, 53, neither stood nor applauded while the Ripken deal was announced.
"It's all political. Besides, there's no athlete worth a million dollars, I don't care who it is," Mobley said. "But I don't pay the salaries. And I guess if you can get it, get it."
Standing up in the entrance way to the upper-deck seats in left field, 74-year-old Ralph Condon, of Woodbine, longed for the old days when players took the field for the love of the game -- not a fat paycheck.
"That's an awful lot of money. There's just too many players, politicians and big shots making too much money," Condon said. "We could get a cheaper seat if these guys just worked cheap. People are just greedy. It's too much money."