Aberdeen's favorite son received a hero's welcome last week -- in Bel Air.
In the days leading up to Harford County's Cal Ripken Day festivities, questions arose about why the parade was held in Bel Air, the county seat, instead of Aberdeen, Ripken's hometown and the home of his minor league IronBirds.
"Everyone has wondered why the event was not in Ripken's hometown," said County Councilman James V. McMahan Jr., a Republican from Bel Air who for 10 years served as curator of Aberdeen's Ripken Museum. "We are more than proud to have it in Bel Air, but I hope our neighbors don't feel we are stealing their thunder."
As it turns out, Aberdeen had hoped to host the festivities, with a baseball card-signing celebration and a parade starting at City Hall.
"Our real concern was that we wouldn't be able to do a first-class event to the scale that we wanted," said Aberdeen City Manager Douglas R. Miller.
Wini Roche, the county's tourism manager, said the county initially intended to stage the event in Aberdeen and offered its support to the city. But "the city really felt logistically it was a lot to handle," she said.
There also were scheduling conflicts, officials said. Aberdeen Mayor Fred Simmons planned to take part in a Baltimore economic development group's trip to Fort Monmouth, N.J., where employees will be moving to Maryland as part of military base realignment (though he ultimately bowed out of that excursion), and Ripken's schedule was packed as his induction to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., nears.
When Aberdeen dropped out, Bel Air was more than happy to step in as the new host.
"For Bel Air, it doesn't get much better than this," Mayor Terence O. Hanley said before Tuesday's event. "We just honored [figure skater and Bel Air resident] Kimmie Meissner, and now we are looking at a fabulous turnout for Cal Ripken."
The county had less than six weeks to organize the event.
"We put together a steering committee with county government, the town of Bel Air and Ripken's people," Roche said. "We had a lot of planning to do in a short time period."
There was no time to solicit business sponsors. Instead, officials spent about $10,000 on the event and printed about 4,000 souvenir baseball cards, a giveaway for kids. The cards featured a reproduced photo and autograph.
In a sign that perhaps there were bruised egos, no Aberdeen elected officials attended Tuesday's event. County Executive David R. Craig and Council President Billy Boniface presented Ripken with a proclamation, and state Sens. Nancy Jacobs and J. Robert Hooper watched along with County Councilmen Chad Shrodes and Richard C. Slutzky.
Some in Aberdeen said they were irritated that the city wasn't able to make the event work. .
"It was a slap in the face to Aberdeen to have Bel Air do what we should've been doing," Aberdeen resident Ann Glover said at last week's City Council meeting.
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