They're painting the town orange in honor of favorite son, Calvin The Pride of Aberdeen

September 06, 1995|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Aberdeen -- Tomorrow evening, they'll gather and line up at the high school, where signs track the progress of the "Empty Goal Post Fund" to refurbish the football field. The school bands, the marching children, the homemade floats, the '67 Cadillac convertible the color of banana pudding and bearing the Chamber of Commerce banner -- they'll head down the main street, West Bel Air Avenue. Over the railroad tracks, past the employment service, the beauty parlor, the auto parts store, a couple of empty storefronts, the post office and City Hall, and then up Howard Street to finish at Festival Park, a bit of green space in an otherwise all-business, no-nonsense downtown.

That the honoree, the object of this homespun civic frippery, won't even be here doesn't strike anyone as odd or off-putting, even if he is going to appear in another parade earlier in the day in Baltimore. This celebration, after all, is as much for the city itself as for Aberdeen's most famous son. This is the place that produced the baseball player who produced one for the record books, an amazing consecutive games streak that, barring some unforeseen act of a very wicked god, will be set at 2,131 games tonight. And tomorrow, well, he's got a perfectly good reason for not attending the parade in his hometown.

"He's got to go to work," Jim McMahan, one of the event organizers, says simply enough. "That's his job."

Somehow, it's fitting that Cal Ripken Jr., baseball's day-in, day-out, company man, will be working -- on an out-of-town business trip, you could say -- as his hometown celebrates this ultimate working man from this ultimate working-class town.

In many ways, Cal Ripken is no different from many of the folks back home in this Harford County city of about 13,000: He was born and raised here, went to the public high school, and then went into his father's business. What sets him apart, of course, is that his father's business happened to be professional baseball.

Cal doesn't come around much anymore. He lives with his wife and two children in a "Dallas"-like spread in horsey Worthington Valley in Baltimore County. But his parents, Cal Sr. and Vi, are beloved citizens of Aberdeen, in the same modest house that their four children grew up in.

Still, Cal remains a presence here in an overriding, symbolic way, much as, say, Bruce Springsteen's spirit hovers over the Jersey shore long after he went Hollywood. Symbols are potent things, powerful enough to make plausible rather than laughable the idea of a millionaire athlete or rock star as a working-class hero.

"He's well-mannered, not with all the earrings and chains like other ballplayers," says Howie Travers, 31, a fireman at the Aberdeen Proving Ground who remains friends with Cal's brother, Bill, his high school baseball teammate. "The whole family is like that, all ethics and morals."

They call him Calvin around here, not because it's so appropriately the root of Calvinism, but because that's what he's always been called. And you can imagine a Calvin living in a place like this, a plain, solid, no-frills town that gives its name to the sprawling 72,000-acre Army installation to the east. Many military people who were based there over the years, in fact, stayed in town after they retired, and their houses set the tone for residential areas here, with their multiple flagpoles, tidily planted flower beds and wood-burned plaques out front that say Capt. Henry lives here.

'A party right here'

As The Streak is commemorated elsewhere with $5,000 on-field seats and $10 programs and near-embarrassing levels of hero worship, here in Cal's hometown, they're doing it up in characteristic fashion: simply, and with the fondness for a longtime neighbor rather than with the obsessive awe for a glittering celebrity. A big-screen TV was set up on the high school football field to air last night's record-tying game and tonight's record-breaking one. For $4, $3 in advance, you could come "Watch the Game on the Big Screen and Celebrate with your Community!" as the tickets say.

"I couldn't get a ticket to Orioles Park, so I said, 'Why don't we have a party right here, borrow some big screen TV and watch it together?' " says Mr. McMahan, who owns the radio station in town, WAMD. One thing led to another, and soon, storefronts were painted in orange and black and a parade was planned. Aberdeen has a parade every Christmas, leaving the Fourth of July to neighboring towns, and for the occasional special event, like 1992's centennial, and, now, Cal's breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. Which gives Don Curry a chance to further his own streak.

"We always have a float in Aberdeen parades and, if there's a prize, we win it," the Century 21 Realtor declares.

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