It's a standout in any league -- the new Ripken Baseball Museum that represents in purpose and content an overwhelming personal tribute to a hometown hero. The doors have opened to what is a remarkable testimonial, not just to a player who scaled historic heights but to a family's lifetime involvement in what is the grandest of all American games.
Aberdeen can be proud of what it has created. Cal Ripken Jr. hasn't yet inspected what has been produced but is certain to be pleased. The notable achievements of Ripken, who reached for the stars and touched them, provided the thrust for such acclaim in a career that has caught the attention and admiration of the nation.
But the museum is intended to be representative of the entire Ripken family and its kinship to baseball. It's as much about love, respect, dedication, perseverance and the way Ripken was raised as it is about his individual exploits. The museum is a winning idea, not only when it was first talked about 15 months ago, but also in the way it has been shaped, implemented and surrounded with what amounts to neighborly pride.
Aberdeen didn't get lost in dialogue about what it wanted to do. It happened in a hurry. What was once part of the city hall is now the Ripken Baseball Museum. It's not that Ripken's importance removed Mayor Chuck Boutin and the town council from their offices, but they gladly cooperated so appropriate attention could be paid to the community's most celebrated son.
A statue will be erected outside of what is now known as 8 Ripken Plaza, located along the main drag, Route 40, in downtown Aberdeen. What's inside in the way of memorabilia tells an exceptional story of how all the Ripkens, covering three generations, played the game and their attachment to it. There's no place, not even the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., that offers such identifying mementos of Ripken's career.
On display are his two Most Valuable Player awards, Gold Gloves, silver bats from the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the bats he used in games that tied and surpassed Lou Gehrig's longevity mark of 2,130 consecutive games, the T-shirt he wore under his uniform presented by his children that read "2,130 + hugs and kisses for daddy," and the plastic leg brace he used in 1985 to keep the streak intact after suffering an ankle injury.
Press a button in one of two viewing rooms and you are instantly watching Ripken deliver the moving speech of thanks he gave at Oriole Park after breaking Gehrig's record. Also the original lineup card Cal Ripken Sr. filled out in 1987 when he managed the Orioles and was the first father to ever have two sons, Cal Jr. and Bill, listed with a starting major-league team. Numerous awards are on display, including the Roberto Clemente Memorial and the most impressive of all from an appearance standpoint -- a 4-foot-high trophy for being voted the Most Valuable Player in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
"Everything that's here is authentic," said Jim McMahan, president of the trustees who formulated this exceptional effort. "There are no copies. We are indebted to the early advice we got from certain individuals and the remarkable vision their thoughts represented."
Important to the presentation is the touch provided by John Quarstein, a native Marylander and curator of the War Museum in Newport News, Va., who tells the story of the Ripken baseball heritage by proper use of the memorabilia. He's coordinator and adviser to the Ripken Museum. The room first strikes a visitor as being too small, but this is only the beginning. Much more will come later.
As for basic facts and figures, there's 1,500 square feet of space, used to the maximum and in an eye-appealing way, at a cost of $430,000, of which $310,000 already has been raised. Charter memberships selling for $300 each are available. One hundred sixty-five have been sold, with a total of 873 available. The figure 873 is not arbitrary. It was arrived at by the uniform numbers, 8, 7 and 3, worn by Cal Jr., Cal Sr. and Bill.
Contributions of $10,000 each to help sponsor individual Ripken showcases have so far come from Bob and Joan Lozinak, Dale and Marie Hess, Dorothy and Curtis Morgan, Debbie and Buddy Adams, the Karas Family and Harford National Bank. Aberdeen already has the Ordnance Museum at the Army Proving Ground, and in nearby Havre de Grace there's the Decoy Museum. All three will represent a triple play for tourists.
Phase II, when the Ripken museum expansion comes about, will include a small theater to show highlight films and an enlarged area to accommodate additional exhibits. This carries a projected $1.6 million price tag. A 13-member board of directors, headed by McMahan, who operates Aberdeen radio station WAMD and serves as a colonel in the Maryland Defense Force (the state guard), controls the museum and establishes policy. Cal Ripken Sr., and his wife, Violet, are on the board and, quite appropriately, have served as official consultants.