Out of the gates, this is no night for stubs


For the roughly 48,000 lucky fans expecting to see Cal Ripken step into the record books tonight, here is some essential advice.

Arrive early.

Stay late.

The Orioles hope to entice fans to extend their night at Camden Yards with a number of special touches for Ripken's record-breaking game.

Before the game, fans passing through the gates will have their tickets turned into instant mementos. Ushers won't tear the precious tickets, but will emboss them with a special seal.

After the game, the Orioles will pay one more tribute to Ripken. Club officials haven't said much about the on-field ceremony. It's been reported that Yankee great Joe DiMaggio and actor Kevin Costner will be in attendance.

And Cal's brother, Bill, is coming. He has received permission to leave the Buffalo Bisons, his Triple-A team, to attend the game. The ceremony is expected to end with Ripken addressing the sellout crowd.

If that isn't enough Ripken for a night, fans can pick up a wide array of souvenirs at the ballpark's novelty shops. Items linked to the streak range from caps to pennants to a $40 Ripken golf shirt.

"It's such a momentous occasion. We want to make it a special night for everyone, from the fans to the players on the field, and especially to Cal himself," said Orioles official Walt Gutowski.

Doing that has required months of planning. In some cases, it also has caused a slight change in daily routines at the park. Gates at Camden Yards will open at 5:35 p.m., a half-hour earlier than usual.

With the new time, the Orioles hope fans will not have to wait in long lines entering the park. Those lines were longer than usual last night. As ticket takers discovered, embossing takes longer than tearing.

Roy Sommerhof, the team's director of stadium operations, said the club purchased 38 of the special embossers for the game. The Orioles also have stationed several more ticket takers at the gates, to guard against embossing fatigue.

"We're trying to give our folks a little more help," he said.

Gates aren't the only places where lines are likely. Ninety minutes before yesterday's game, the wait to use the automatic cash machine on Eutaw Street seemed at least a half-hour.

The Orioles foresaw that problem. An armored truck was at Camden Yards, ready to resupply the machine with cash if it ran out, Sommerhof said.

Lines at concession stands also were long yesterday, and figure to be no shorter tonight. To mark Ripken's big night, the club and its concessionaire, ARA-Mark, have put out Ripken balls, books and more.

Demand at the park has been crushing, in part because many of the items only are available at Camden Yards or by mail order. They will be in stores later.

Tonight's game also will be the last chance for Orioles fans to have a look at the 10-foot orange and black numbers that have been posted on the B&O; warehouse.

The numbers, which have kept track of Ripken's streak as he made the final approach to Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games, will come down Friday, a team official said. The Orioles' homestand will end after tonight's game.

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