Iron Fan Endurance: You appreciate a little more what Cal Ripken goes through day after day when you decide to sit through all the way through the five games in the last three days at Camden Yards.

September 17, 1997

Death, taxes, Cal Ripken.

And, for the past five games, The Fan.

If Cal wasn't going to break his streak even during this most grueling stretch of the season, The Fan felt she should hold up her end in the stands. Sunday night, Monday afternoon, Monday night, Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night. The Fan was there, there, there, there and there.

Five games in 48 hours. It's either every kid's dream or some kind of purgatory where fans are sent to see if they deserve to go to heaven. By the time the second game of yesterday's doubleheader rolled around, The Fan could only think one thing: Please, God, no extra innings.

At least The Fan had company during this endless loop of baseball: She spent much of the past three days with three fans and one vendor who make The Fan seem like just another Camden Yards arriviste.

Jean Sampson of Cockeysville began going to every Orioles home game in 1977 and hasn't missed one yet. Kathy and Heather Sachs, a mother-daughter act from Joppa, have been coming to games together since the now 28-year-old Heather was about 4. This year, they decided to attend every home game.

Even more impressive, though, are their outfits. They dress alike, from the pin-covered baseball hats to the black sneakers with the Orioles shoelaces. This is how The Fan knew when another in the blur of five games was starting: Had Kathy and Heather changed outfits?

Sunday night: White Orioles jerseys.

Monday afternoon: White Orioles polo shirts with orange stripes.

Monday evening: White Orioles jerseys with black sleeves.

Tuesday afternoon: White Orioles "October" T-shirts.

Tuesday night: Black Orioles "O is for October" T-shirts.

And stay tuned for their World Series accessories: Matching tattoos. Kathy is lobbying for a Bird tattoo, while Heather is leaning toward the diamond-shaped Orioles logo.

Faced with such superfans, The Fan could actually relate much better to the Iron Vendor, Jeff Lang. He at least is paid to be here.

Jeff can and occasionally does take a day off here and there -- there was that day his sister got married -- but not often. In fact, he managed to squeeze an extra game into the past three days by working the Redskins game on Sunday afternoon, catching a quick nap, then heading to Camden Yards for the Yankees game that night.

Jeff, a Hopkins grad who is working on his Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has been a vendor for eight years and has risen to the top of his field. In vendor culture, that means he sells Coors Light -- very popular at Camden Yards -- and usually in the box seats. It's great money -- more than $200 some games -- great hours, great fun and a great workout. If you ever want to see some legs, forget the players and check out the vendors.

Intrigued, The Fan clipped a pedometer on Jeff and set him loose: How many miles of concrete and steps does a vendor cover to sell how much beer? The early line on Jeff:

Sunday night: 3.58 miles, 20 cases of beer. "A great night. Some Sunday games are horrible, but this was the Yankees."

Monday afternoon: 3.57 miles, 15 cases of beer.

Monday night: 2.61 miles, 14 cases of beer. "I'm going home and loading up on the ibuprofen."

Tuesday afternoon: 2.84 miles, 12 cases of beer.

Tuesday night: 2.33 miles, 15 cases of beer. "I'm going to go out and drink a beer, or 20."

Too much action for The Fan. She decided to take refuge in the oasis of Section 44 that Jean Sampson presides over with quiet calm.

Like Cal, Jean is not the flashiest person around. She's just there, all the time, every inning. She has never left a game early -- not even a blowout. She has never come in late. And, like Cal, that's the secret to her longevity: consistency.

"You never get too high, you never get too low," says Jean, who works at McCormick. "I like them if they're winning, and if they're losing, well they're still the same players, so I still like them."

This five-game stretch, though, is even a bit much for Jean. By Tuesday, her bum left knee is feeling the strain of all those walks from her parking lot at Pratt and Eutaw, around the stadium to her section off Russell Street, and back again.

"My apartment is on the third floor," the Cockeysville resident said, "and by last night, it looked like Mount Everest."

Which is an apt metaphor -- the best way to explain why Jean comes to every home game is: because they're there.

Or, as Heather Sachs told The Fan the other night, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours of your life. Heather and mom Kathy were starting to go to so many Orioles games -- more than 50 last year -- that they finally got seasons tickets this year. Heather, a budget analyst for the Army Corps of Engineers, and Kathy, an executive secretary at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, are here so often they've been on the scoreboard screen 16 times. But neither has ever been "Yardbird of the Game."

"I would have to take my bra off," Heather says of the feature, which picks bouncing babes so often Kathy has dubbed it "Yardboob of the Game."

You notice things like that when you go to every home game.

From their seats in Section 82 of the left field boxes, these Iron Fans also notice:

Some players should have their barbers shave their necks.

Left field has its share of bad eggs -- Albert Belle, Wil Cordero -- but every half-inning, the very nice B.J. Surhoff comes out and everything is fine again.

And fans who go shirtless and paint "O's" on their chests usually shouldn't.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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