The Arctic Circle custard stand in Churchville is one of the few Harford County institutions that haven't changed much since Cal Ripken Jr. played ball for the high school down the road.
Inside, the electronic video game tempts winners with the possibility of a free Nintendo Wii machine, a Sony Playstation, a month's worth of free gasoline -- or a Cal Ripken rookie card.
The high price of gasoline and the scarcity of the Wii notwithstanding, the 1982 Topps baseball card would be a hot prize, a glance at eBay shows.
In mint condition, that card was attracting bids over $400 last week.
More than 3,000 items bearing Ripken's name, signature or likeness were being offered on the auction site last week. That was on a par with the Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter and much more than the 2,500 items being offered linked to Tiger Woods or the 600 for soccer star David Beckham. A few rare Ripken cards were attracting bids of hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but most of the items are probably too common to attract enormous sums.
During Ripken's two decades with the Orioles, few things changed as much as the mass media and communications. When he made the major-league team in 1981, Baltimore had three daily newspapers and network TV hadn't yet faced much competition from cable. By the time he retired in October 2001, cell phones and the Internet were ubiquitous and vital in delivering word of the tragedy that had befallen America three weeks earlier.
Blogs did not become popular until after he retired from baseball. That's probably why they largely mirror the post-career adulation of the Ironman more than the heated debate during his later years about the streak, for one. One blogger contends Ripken's greatest contribution to the game "was a glorified `perfect attendance' certificate that elementary school students receive with juice and cookies." But such views, even in the vastness of cyberspace, seem the minority. More typical are the fan photo albums like one from his recent parade in his native Harford County (http:--www.belair- scene.com/2007/06/19/photoblog- cal-ripken-jr-day/ )
Just as he was on the left side of the Orioles infield all those years, Ripken's fairly nimble on the Internet. His ripkenbaseball.com is a multipronged launch pad for his various businesses: as links to the minor-league baseball teams he owns in Aberdeen and Augusta, Ga., as a means to solicit volunteers to help put on the annual youth World Series he hosts at his complex in Aberdeen or to promote his latest hawking of his mementos on QVC.
Other video sites have an array of interesting Ripken fare. Mefeedia. com has some interesting hitting instruction from the later-today Hall of Famer (http:--www.mefeedia. com/entry/2237096/) and YouTube, naturally, has an odd collection, including a Ripken speech where he says he has no hard feelings toward the Energizer Bunny for calling him a quitter after he stopped at 2,632 consecutive games (http:--youtube. com/watch?v=cMv8HiLGmwA)
He's no threat to David Letterman, but he's not as wooden as he's often made out to be, either.
Andrew Ratner is Today editor of The Sun and a former technology reporter.