Ball for the Ages


On Tuesday night, Sykesville resident Michael Stirn went to Baltimore to witness a baseball drama. By happenstance, he got to play a bit part. Even though there has been a crushing amount of attention on Cal Ripken Jr. and his streak, Mr. Stirn, a local homebuilder, became a minor celebrity who gained his share of media hoopla.

When Mr. Ripken, who had just tied Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record for playing in the most consecutive major-league baseball games, smacked a home run into the left field seats in the sixth inning Tuesday, the ball ended up in Mr. Stirn's lap. A season ticket holder, Mr. Stirn later remarked that in all the previous games he attended a ball hadn't come within 10 feet of him.

Every fan's dream is to catch a home run ball. The sight of kids (an embarrassing number of them up in years) taking their gloves to a stadium in the hopes of snaring any ball hit into the stands is as much a part of the game as eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Only the luckiest fans get to go home with a ball. Most go home empty-handed.

Mr. Stirn's ball was not a normal prize, as evidenced by another spectator who waved 25 crisp $100 bills in front of Mr. Stirn. Whether moved by the crowd around him chanting "keep the ball" or his own desire to possess the historic baseball, Mr. Stirn declined the offer.

Mr. Stirn joins another Carroll County resident who retrieved a noteworthy ball from Oriole Park. On July 12, 1993, Mark Pallack, then a Westminster High School senior, recovered the first ball that hit the Camden Yards warehouse on the fly. Ken Griffey Jr. swatted that monster smash during the Home Run Derby before the 1993 All-Star Game. Mark was offered $100 for his ball, an indication more of the value of Mr. Ripken's accomplishment than of the effects of inflation on baseball memorabilia. Mark kept the ball, according to reports at the time, but did ask whether he could donate it to a museum.

What Mr. Stirn does with his ball remains to be seen. He said he would be willing "to work something out" with Mr. Ripken. However, with people offering incredible sums, Mr. Stirn might part with his memento. As with the ballplayer's streak, the decision boils down to willpower. Cal Ripken has demonstrated mind over body. Mr. Stirn will have to exert mind over money.

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