Basking in glory of Ripken fame Amused, but above it all: Vanity plates draw attention to kindergarten teacher wherever she drives.

January 05, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Pam Erisman cannot drive anywhere without being asked: "Are you Cal Ripken's wife?"

The reason for the question is obvious. The front and rear bumpers of her 1995 Nissan Altima bear the license plates "CAL 8."

Adding to the confusion is that, like Kelly Ripken, Ms. Erisman, 26, is an attractive blonde who adores the 35-year-old Orioles shortstop. But Ms. Erisman lacks two things that Mrs. Ripken has: height (Ms. Erisman stands 5 feet 9 inches, about three inches shorter than Mrs. Ripken) and the wedding ring.

In fact, Ms. Erisman has no desire to imitate or look like Mrs. Ripken.

"I'm not a fanatic or a groupie or anything like that," said Ms. Erisman, a kindergarten teacher at the Children's World Learning Center in Arnold. "I'm not interested in that. I just admire him. That's all."

The license plates were a chance opportunity, said Ms. Erisman, who lives in Riviera Beach. When she drove to the Glen Burnie MVA to renew her tags last March, the line was too long for her liking.

So, she walked to the vanity plate counter -- where there was no waiting -- and playfully asked for "CAL 8" as her first choice.

"I wasn't even seriously thinking about having them," Ms. Erisman recalled. "But when the woman behind the counter said I got my first choice, I said, 'Excuse me?' "

The plates on her car have attracted more than a fair share of attention for Ms. Erisman. In July, two men in a truck on the Baltimore Beltway tried to find out if she was related to Mr. Ripken, all the while ignoring the cars they almost hit.

The children in her grandmother's Baltimore neighborhood sometimes call her "Mrs. Ripken." And someone tried to steal the tags the week before Christmas as her car sat in front of her parents' home.

"I just laugh at them," Ms. Erisman said of the questions and the stares. "I know if I saw the tags, I would be curious, too. I'm indifferent to all of it."

Her admiration for Mr. Ripken began when she was young girl. Her two older brothers were big fans of the Oriole shortstop, who had yet to take his first at-bat in the major leagues.

Ms. Erisman started with a 1981 baseball card of a brown-haired, boyish Calvin E. Ripken Jr., No. 15 for the Rochester Red Wings of the International League.

Now, 14 years later, Ms. Erisman has so much Cal Ripken memorabilia that some of it has to be stored in the trunk of her car.

She has about 600 baseball cards, 30 T-shirts and a hardbound scrapbook of every article written about Mr. Ripken between June 4, 1995, and the Sept. 6 game in which he broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played. Mr. Ripken's streak stands at 2,153 games.

She even has a 5-month-old Jack Russell terrier named Cally.

Ms. Erisman said Mr. Ripken's appeal is universal.

"He's so humble," she said. "Athletes today are so into themselves. There are a lot of players who would say, 'I'll play for the Yankees because they're going to pay me $10 million more than the team that gave me my first chance to play.'

"I don't see that with him," she said.

"He's genuine, and you don't see that in many athletes or people in general."

With all her memorabilia, Ms. Erisman dreams of meeting Mr. Ripken.

"To do nothing else but shake his hand and get him to autograph my book," she said.

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