Ronald W. Kropkowski, 41, Baltimore Orioles `superfan'

November 01, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Ronald W. Kropkowski, a self-described Orioles "superfan" known for his black-and-orange regalia and the witty poster-board signs he wore around his neck, died Thursday of cancer at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 41.

Mr. Kropkowski, who tried out for the team in 1981 but didn't make it, won an Orioles "superfan" contest several years ago, earning him an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago. There, he donned the team colors and cheered as enthusiastically as if the Orioles were playing at home.

A resident of Dundalk, Mr. Kropkowski hadn't missed a home opener in about 30 years. In 1996, he showed up at Oriole Park at Camden Yards even after learning the opening game had been postponed. Outside the park, he staged a one-man protest with a sign that said, "Tell me this is an April Fool's joke."

He was among the first to officially cheer Albert Belle, who had been mired in controversy, as the team's new left fielder this year. During batting practice on Opening Day, Mr. Kropkowski unfurled a sign -- complete with bells -- behind the Orioles' dugout: "Think World Series: Ring Belle 88," it said.

"I think Albert's going to do well here," he told The Sun. "Everybody messes up when they're young. When he gets his money, that will shut him up. He's grown up."

For the Ravens' 1996 debut in Baltimore, Mr. Kropkowski dressed in black as "The Raven" with a sign proclaiming: "Baltimore Ravens Rule the NFL." Last year, when the ESPN Zone opened at the Inner Harbor, he was again on hand.

"They've got three of my favorite subjects over there: eating, drinking and watching sports," he said.

"He was just very sports-minded," said his mother, Anna Brown Kropkowski of Dundalk, with whom he lived.

Mr. Kropkowski graduated in 1977 from Dundalk High School, where he played soccer and basketball.

After high school, he worked for several years at Bethlehem Steel Corp. in the coke oven department at the Sparrows Point Plant. He later took a job as a delivery driver for United Parcel Service and worked there until a few months before his death.

Mr. Kropkowski enjoyed traveling. This year, he visited Maine, Aruba and California, where he met Jay Leno in Los Angeles as a member of "The Tonight Show" audience.

Mr. Kropkowski was diagnosed with cancer at the end of July. The day before his death, the Orioles sent him a baseball autographed by the entire team.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. today at Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Dundalk.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by three brothers, Donald R. Kropkowski and Timothy J. Kropkowski, both of Dundalk, and Robert J. Kropkowski of Woodbine; and a sister, Mary Ann Rankin of Shrewsbury, Pa.

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