Orioles help boy get over explosion

January 29, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

When a natural gas explosion tore apart Kevin Ireland's shrine to his baseball hero, the 11-year-old Westminster boy never wanted to go back in his room.

Now, thanks to Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles, Kevin can't wait for his room -- and the rest of his house -- to be repaired so he can set up a new shrine.

And this tribute to the All-Star shortstop will have something his old collection of Cal memorabilia never had -- items signed by his hero.

"I've been trying for a long time to get his signature," Kevin said Friday at Camden Yards, where Orioles officials were giving him and his family a tour. "I can't believe this. I'm so excited."

As he sat in the dugout, the park's scoreboard operator flashed Kevin's name on the board.

And then team officials brought him the goods: a book, picture and trading card all signed by Mr. Ripken.

Then they gave Kevin a 6-foot poster of the shortstop to replace the one ripped in half by the explosion.

"He signed it!" Kevin exclaimed.

As he savored his new collection, he spotted a box overflowing with Orioles and Cal mementos. The box was his, too.

The Jan. 19 blast that ripped apart Kevin's home -- and the Autumn Ridge neighborhood where he lived -- also took much of his Cal Ripken Jr. collection. His mother, Linda, told a reporter that of all the family's losses in the blast, Kevin's shrine to his baseball hero was the hardest to accept.

When the shortstop read about Kevin's loss, he called his agent and told him he wanted to do something. Mr. Ripken stopped by Camden Yards Thursday and signed the items, team officials said. He was not at the ballpark Friday.

"This is the first time I've seen him smile since the explosion," Mrs. Ireland said as a cadre of television cameras followed her and the family around Camden Yards.

Once the Orioles contacted Mrs. Ireland Thursday night, she said she and Kevin could barely contain their happiness.

Kevin, his sister, his mother, her parents and Mrs. Ireland's brother were led on an hourlong tour, hitting spots the public rarely get to visit: the press room, the underground tunnel used by the players and umpires, and the first-base line.

Kevin was savoring his gifts as he walked through the stands on his way out of the ballpark.

"I had a big collection before this all happened," he said. "Now, it's a lot bigger."

The Irelands have hired a contractor to repair their home, which was blown partially off its foundation. It should be livable again by the fall, Mrs. Ireland said.

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