Baseball season over? Colts gone? You'd never know it in this Bel Air basement

September 18, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The baseball season is over this year for most people, but for Ron Liberto it never ends.

Whenever he wants to see what Cal or Brooks or Jim Palmer are doing, he goes to the basement of his Bel Air home.

The Colts are there, too -- Alan, Gino and Johnny U.

It's Cooperstown in Harford County, with nods to football, soccer, hockey and basketball.

Mr. Liberto has created a 1,300-square-foot memorial to his sports heroes. The 3,000-item collection of memorabilia spans 40 years.

His clubroom contains a sports bar, with a smiling Muhammad Ali photo serving as a makeshift bartender and a "Bomb 'em Birds" bumper sticker from 1969.

"I've had a serious passion for sports since I was a little kid," said Mr. Liberto, 48, who began collecting baseball cards when he was 8.

His favorites are a Brooks Robinson card from the 1960s and a 1954 Ted Williams card.

He saved most of his cards in shoe boxes before he erected his shrine. Several years ago, he sold some of his "backup" cards from the 1950s to help finance a down payment on his house.

Mr. Liberto talked nonstop about sports on a recent evening while he showed his collection to a visitor. He pointed out a $10.50 ticket to a 1960 World Series Orioles game that never happened (the Yankees captured the American League title), a copy of what he says is a two-week pay check to Cal Ripken for $203,831.74 and an ancient Orioles toothbrush.

He has sports schedules from the 1960s, posters, signed baseballs and souvenir pennants, sunglasses and stuffed Orioles birds.

After all, this is a man who has been to every World Series game the Orioles have played since 1966, a die-hard Bullets fan who still bought season tickets when they moved from Baltimore to Washington, a gung-ho recreational soccer player who still kicks around a ball.

The Towson native also played in local baseball leagues and coached basketball teams in Baltimore County until about a decade ago. Trophies attest to his past victories.

He even has a plan to end the baseball strike, complete with a detailed salary structure and pay scale for each Oriole that would pay the players based on performance.

"It's a way for the players to still be making a comfortable living," says the accounting technician, who has worked for the Social Security Administration for 28 years.

His basement museum is a labor of love -- and loss.

After years of storing his artifacts, a January snowstorm this year and a failed marriage prompted him to cut, paste and mount his collection.

"It helped to ease the pain of missing them," he says of the void he felt when his wife left with their 5-year-old son and 2-year-old twin daughters.

Mr. Liberto, who says he has no art background, made shadow boxes, collages and displays, and rigged lighting to create a three-dimensional effect for his collections of pins, buttons and cards. He has arranged the mountings into themed sections.

Old photos capture Johnny Unitas and Alan Ameche on one wall. Another wall is dedicated to Cal Ripken. As a visitor walks into the area, a life-sized cutout photo of the Orioles shortstop drinking milk creates a realistic image.

Mr. Liberto has shaped many of the photos of sports figures to look like busts, "the way a hall of fame does," he says. He's pleased with the results of the endeavor that took three months of weekends.

But he knew he'd really done a credible job by the reaction of his son and daughters.

"My little children think they're people," he says.

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