- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Cal Ripken memorabilia are vanishing at area shops as fans try to snatch up pieces of the Iron Man's legacy before his major-league playing career ends with the 2001 season.

Stadium Sports, an all-Orioles shop in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, sold out of $180 Ripken autographed baseballs yesterday morning. The most popular item so far is Mr. Ripken's authentic jersey at $170.

"We expect sales to increase," said Geri Durham, who, with her husband, Mike, owns Stadium Sports and the Sports Shop, also in the Inner Harbor. "We've obviously anticipated this would happen this season."

The question now for fans is what to buy.

"I might get a picture of him because a picture of Cal can't hurt the looks of the living room," said Champ Harms, a longtime Orioles fan who bought a team hat at the Orioles Official Team Store on 17th Street in Northwest.

Although Mr. Ripken's announcement that he would retire at the end of the season has spurred sales, it isn't likely to create the kind of rush that occurred three years ago when he broke Lou Gehrig's major-league record for the most consecutive games played.

"Whenever Cal Ripken is involved, because of his following and the mystique around him, it's a significant merchandising event," Faust Capobianco IV, senior vice president of Majestic Athletic Inc., a Pennsylvania-based Major League Baseball licensee, told Bloomberg News. "But I don't think it will approach when he broke Gehrig's record."

The Orioles Official Team Store was busier selling game tickets than Ripken-specific merchandise. A sign outside warned fans that the Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 Orioles games the infielder's final home games were sold out. Some seats remained for the Sept. 21 game as of midafternoon yesterday.

Paul Hyman of Falls Church was disappointed he had to settle for game tickets during Mr. Ripken's last week instead of his final home game against the New York Yankees. The Orioles finish the season Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium.

Mrs. Durham predicts some merchandisers will create "milestone T-shirts" with Mr. Ripken's name and career statistics, which she says would be hot sellers.

Plenty of merchandise already is dedicated to the Iron Man from T-shirts, autographed jerseys and pennants to trash cans and trading cards.

"The beauty about Cal announcing his retirement in June is that there will be a nice gradual buildup [to his last game]," said Bud Verge, manager of the Orioles Official Team Store, which has about 15 percent of its inventory bearing Mr. Ripken's name and number.

Ripken merchandise was selling at the Orioles sister store in York, Pa. Both stores are owned by the Orioles.

"I think a lot of people will try to get any Cal Ripken merchandise they can," said the Pennsylvania store's manager, Kelly Vecero. "Even the casual fan will try to get Ripken merchandise because he was such an icon."

Miss Vecero estimates about 50 percent of the store's merchandise is dedicated to Mr. Ripken.

She expects the amount of merchandise and sales to increase as the season comes to an end.

"Cal Ripken has always been a big seller to begin with," Miss Vecero said.

The Orioles store inside Camden Yards, which is not affiliated with the ball club, expects much of its Ripken merchandise to sell over the next few weeks.

"I'm sure a lot of his merchandise will fly off the shelves," said store manager Maria Slowe.

Ripken memorabilia makes up 30 percent to 40 percent of her store's inventory. Ripken T-shirts and a set of 10 baseball cards are the most popular items, but Miss Slowe expects within the next few weeks to get a lot more merchandise reflecting Mr. Ripken's career and last season.

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