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Charity is a comfortable cushion for buyers of $5,000 Ripken seats


For Cal Ripken's record-breaking game at Camden Yards, every seat is special. Some are just a little more special.

Which brings us to the 260 cushioned chairs -- the maximum that could be set up on the edges of the field Wednesday night.

The Orioles hoped to sell enough of the $5,000 seats to raise $1 million to fund research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

With the game 48 hours away, that goal has been surpassed.

Already, the Orioles have reservations for 210 seats.

Lenox Baker and his wife, Francis, will be sitting in two of the specially designed chairs. Lenox Baker is a surgeon who performs heart transplant surgery. His wife is also a physician.

The Bakers live 200 miles from Camden Yards, in Norfolk, Va., but they did not hesitate when they learned that, at the same time, they might attend the Ripken game and donate $10,000 to Hopkins Hospital.

Lenox Baker called the project "ingenious."

"It's motherhood and apple pie. I'm not surprised it's being met with this type of reception from people throughout the country," said Baker, whose Hopkins roots run deep. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the university. He also serves on the university's board of trustees.

"You're looking at a major charitable contribution to a worthwhile research effort. Then you have the wonderful mix of having Cal Ripken raising significant amounts of money to fight the disease that killed the man whose record he is breaking."

Pete Manos' company, Giant Food, bought two tickets. He's one of a half-dozen business leaders helping the Orioles sell the rest.

"It's a natural thing that anybody would want to be a part of," said Manos. "You've got a great American, a great athlete, breaking the record of another role model in Lou Gehrig."

Baker's and Manos' enthusiasm for the project is typical of the reaction the Orioles and other business leaders have encountered as they have taken orders during the past two weeks.

Local businesses, and a few wealthy individuals, have stepped up to buy most of the tickets. Many have purchased one or two. Major corporations with ties to Ripken have purchased more. Chevrolet and Coca-Cola, corporations with endorsement deals with the Orioles shortstop, say they each have bought four.

The Orioles have been slow to give out more information about ticket buyers, saying some may not want the publicity. But Joe Foss, Orioles vice chairman, said orders have come from Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and California. The largest buy was made by an Orioles investor, who ordered 10 tickets. Foss declined to name the investor.

For their money, ticket buyers not only get to sit in a great seat, but also to take it home.

For the game, the Orioles have ordered special folding chairs, complete with a Ripken logo emblazoned on the seat and back cushions. If it isn't suitable for framing, presumably it makes an interesting conversation piece when displayed in a living room.

The seats will be arranged in two rows, 140 along the left-field line and 120 in right. Because the seats extend beyond the regular grandstand, the Orioles could not add the seats without approval from the American League.

The Orioles used the same seating configuration when baseball's All-Star Game came to Camden Yards in 1993. But seats encroaching on the field never before had been approved for a regular-season game, according to American League officials.

Gene Budig, American League president, said he said yes to this request because the circumstances were unique.

"My decision is a clear reflection on the importance of the event," Budig said from his New York office. "It's an historic milestone and a crowning achievement for a great athlete."

The seats are just one of the mementos that buyers of the $5,000 tickets will receive. The tickets themselves will be collectors' items. The Orioles will frame the ticket and a photograph of Ripken taken on the record-breaking night, and present it as a keepsake of the game.

If that doesn't sate the appetite for Ripken, the Orioles shortstop and his wife, Kelly, will be hosts to a private thank-you reception for the ticket buyers at a later date.

And then there is also the satisfaction of a large charitable contribution. All proceeds will help to fund neuromuscular research at Hopkins, one of the nation's leading centers for such work.

Gehrig died of such a disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, at the age of 37.

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