As the future Hall of Famer took his position, he looked over his opponents and immediately knew what to do. Without so much as a warm-up, he casually let loose his best pitch: that trademark grin with a flash of baby blues.
Stri-iike. Members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, men and women who have pummeled the most formidable state bureaucrats and politicians, couldn't muster so much as a verbal pop-up in response.
Score one for Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr., the city of Aberdeen and efforts to build a $12 million minor league Ripken Stadium in that Harford County town.
"A baseball team, along with everything else that's going on, would really improve the area," the Orioles' All-Star third baseman told the committee. "Camden Yards is a hard ticket to get right now. Aberdeen people don't have many options, baseball-wise."
Speaking before a packed committee room with an unusual abundance of television cameras and autograph seekers for a General Assembly bill hearing, Ripken pitched the stadium as a great quality-of-life investment.
He said he was flattered that the ballpark would be named after his family, and he suggested that he might invest in a baseball school there -- possibly headed by his father, Cal Sr., a former coach and manager with the Orioles.
"I'd love to be able to put baseball back into the community," said Ripken, who grew up in Aberdeen. "I think it works, numbers-wise."
When informed that his bill hearing date had been moved from next week to accommodate his spring training schedule, Ripken said he would have gladly avoided the rigors of training camp to be in Annapolis.
The Iron Man's only interruption came when a nearby cell phone started ringing loudly.
"I think it's [Orioles owner] Mr. Angelos on the phone," Ripken said without missing a beat.
After being wowed by Ripken, committee members were not as lenient with Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, peppering her with questions about why she wasn't offering more county money for the project.
The stadium legislation calls for the state to spend $3 million, Aberdeen $4 million, minor-league teams owner Peter Kirk $2 million and Harford County $2 million. Rehrmann has committed only $1.25 million, of which $1 million would be a loan.
"I would think you'd be excited about this project," said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican. "Things are good in Harford County. I'm kind of disappointed with the attitude the county has for the project."
Rehrmann said that the stadium is Aberdeen's, not the county's, and that she never agreed to $2 million. She said Maryland and Aberdeen would reap most of the tax revenues from the stadium.
But stadium supporters said privately the problem is that she is running for governor in the Democratic primary and doesn't want to be seen as spending taxpayer money on stadiums -- a touchy subject for incumbent Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who committed millions of dollars for the Ravens and Redskins football stadiums.
Ripken's appearance didn't deter opponents who think the Aberdeen site is an inappropriate place for a 6,000-seat facility.
They said the location would ruin a residential neighborhood and force the destruction of acres of wetlands.
"Cal Ripken's a legend," said Cathy Hampton, a Ripken admirer and a leader in the fight against the location. "Well, we're legends in our own minds. It's our city, and we're proud of it."
After the hearing, Ripken signed autographs for a few legislative office workers.
House of Delegates intern Patrick Kaczmar, 22, said he was thrilled to have an autograph and ranked the moment with his other Annapolis highlights -- meeting Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and former Gov. Harry R. Hughes.
"Cal's in the class of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig," said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist hired by Aberdeen to promote the project. "I see a lot of legislators at Orioles games. Having him here is extremely helpful."
Pub Date: 2/12/98