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Orioles fans go nuts over team memorabilia


If you can't conjure Earl with his cap on backwards . . .

If the miracles of No. 5 are not enshrined in your all-time mental highlight film . . .

If you don't think the National Anthem is spelled with an O . . .

Maybe you aren't an Orioles fan.

Or, maybe your memory is fading.

In the latter case, help is available. A wide world of memorabilia beckons from almost every corner of the soon-to-be vacant Memorial Stadium. The park may be headed for its last innings, but you can almost take it home with you.

They'll even sell you a truck.

The "Match Box Collectible Moving Van" features a picture of Memorial Stadium on one side, the new one opening next year at Camden Yards on the other. The model has been the most popular of many "Season To Remember" keepsakes.

Worried you won't be able to remember the old ballpark's facade?

Pick up a copy of a "Stadium rendering in embroidered art . . . 79,000 stitches . . . framed and matted under glass."

Price: $240. One thousand of these were made (that's 79,000,000 stitches).

The stadium has been rendered also in a crystal glass paperweight at $182.

"One guy," says souvenir saleswoman Donna Provenzano, "bought four of thesecommemorative silver coins at $65 each. You wouldn't believe the prices people pay for this stuff."

Mrs. Provenzano understands. Her husband, John, will not miss a game.

"If I die during the baseball season, they're going to freeze my body so they can have a funeral later," she said.

At another stand, a teen-ager spent more than $400 for three lithographs featuring portraits of Cal, Jim, Frank, Brooks and the stadium ($49.50 a copy). He also bought 20 stadium history books: "The House of Magic" ($12 each) is dedicated to "all those who have felt the magic happen."

If the feeling has been dulled over the last few seasons, buy a button ($1.50) or a badge ($10), recalling "a tradition of excellence."

Darryl Williams of Tampa, Fla., remembers.

"Always liked them," he said of the Birds.

He and his wife, Cindy, walked away Saturday night with a $21 T-shirt, a tank top, a deck of Orioles playing cards and another T-shirt -- for their dog.

Mr. Williams wore black and orange laces in his athletic shoes.

Bernie Blevins of Betterton ordered a jacket ($69.95) for her son, Steve, who already seems to have every other Oriole and stadium souvenir imaginable.

Young Blevins broke into the Bigs of collecting at the age of 5, on the day the Orioles retired Brooks Robinson's number. Now a 19-year-old student at Chesapeake College, he once took Grand Champion honors at a Kent County 4-H Club contest, crafts and hobbies division, on the strength of his Orioles collection.

"I have every score book since 1975," he said. "I've got 12 autographed baseballs and 2,000 baseball cards."

An undercount, his mother declares. The number is closer to 5,000.

"Oh my God, the baseball cards," she said. "And I don't know how many shirts." At Saturday's game against Kansas City, he wore the Greg Olson model and Oriole boxer shorts.

He has the first two of three 1991 commemorative T-shirts, the first showing ticket stubs from the first and final opening-day games. The second features the stadium and is labeled the "House of Magic." In T-Shirt No. 2, fireworks explode in a burst of red and white above the stadium. Shirt No. 3, yet to be offered, is called "The Best Is Yet To Come."

Steve has numerous pictures of himself with Cal and Billy. His 1991 GMC truck has a license plate holder identifying him as an "avid Orioles fan."

He has almost everything anyone has thought of as an aide-memoire of Memorial Stadium -- although he has not yet acquired the bottled stadium dirt that is being sold for $8.95, complete with authenticating certificates.

No one has attempted, so far, to capture the aroma of pink cotton candy, of spilled beer and of popcorn.

The impresario of Memorial-ware and Memorial knickknacks is Ray E. Moran, a retired Baltimore police officer. He says people are a bit torn about the fast-approaching demise of the park on 33rd Street.

"They're excited about the new park," he says. "And they're melancholy about this place. But I don't think it will really hit home until the crane pulls up with the ball attached to it."

Mr. Moran feels the knot tightening in his own stomach. He remembers the old Municipal Stadium, which preceded the current park, and playing in the new one as it was being constructed.

He and his father had season tickets to the Colts.

"That's the hurting part of it for me," he says.

He saw, though, that the hurting might work nostalgia-wise. The moving van, for example.

"I tell everybody it's not the moving van used by the Colts when they left town," Mr. Moran says."That tore us up a lot."

Hurtful or not, the image has a selling quality, according to William A. Burkhardt, one of the salesmen.

"People ask if its the Colts van. I tell them it's whatever kind of van they want it to be," he said. The van sets you back $15.

But price seems unimportant to many.

"How much is the pinstriped shirt?" Mr. Burkhardt is asked.

"$51," he says.

"Whoa!" the customer says, hands flying up defensively. Often, though, the same people come back and resolutely plunk down the money.

It happens over and over. The pin-stripers are virtually gone, Mr. Burkhardt says.

"You tell some people how much it costs and they say, 'I don't care. I want it.' "

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