$5,000 seats have a grand view 2,131: RIPKEN PASSES GEHRIG * *TC


Phil Long admires his new $5,000 folding chair so much, he'd like to bring it home and put it in the living room of his Salisbury home.

His wife doesn't agree.

"I personally think it would go anywhere, but she isn't excited about the idea yet," Long said as he sat in his chair, nearly within touching distance of the left-field foul line.

He bounced slightly on the seat cushion. Then he grinned.

"Hey, it's a comfortable seat -- even for five grand."

On Cal Night at Camden Yards, Long was one of 260 fans who went home with his chair as well as his memories of an historic night for Ripken and the Orioles.

In three weeks, the Orioles mounted an aggressive campaign to sell the seats, placed in rows of two in front of the left- and right-field grandstands. In the process, they surpassed the goal of owner Peter Angelos to raise $1 million to fund research into Lou Gehrig's Disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"We were right on target," said a clearly delighted Angelos. "We could have sold even more."

Local corporations bought many of the tickets. An Orioles part-owner (team officials declined to name him) made the biggest buy -- 10 seats.

But some of the buyers did not fit the mold.

Bill Mann, a rabid Orioles fan, owns a pretzel manufacturing company near Indianapolis. ("It's the only legitimate business left -- that's crooked," he said).

Mann's wife surprised him with the ticket as an early Christmas gift.

An hour before the game, he stood in the middle of a pre-game VIP reception, one attended by Joe DiMaggio, Ernie Banks, one team owner and at least two U.S. Senators.

His eyes opened wide.

"This is phenomenal," said Mann, who lived in Baltimore when the Orioles franchise returned in 1954. "I don't think we'll see this broken again. I'm sure they said the same thing when Gehrig set the record. But things have changed so much in baseball. Even staying with one team all these years is unusual."

Kip Lawrence lives in Houston. Several weeks ago, he saw a notice about the $5,000 seats in a baseball magazine and contacted the Orioles.

Lawrence has a workingman's job. He sells cookie to schools and other groups holding fund raisers.

"The money goes to a good cause, so that's one way of looking at the ticket. And it's tax deductible," he said. "But in my case, I need income more than I need the deduction."

But yesterday, Lawrence had no regrets.

"I can't say what it means to be here," he said. "I don't think I'll be able to answer that for a week, a year or maybe five years."

If sharing in the historic moment wasn't enough, the $5,000 price tag for the field seats brought other goodies. The folding chair comes with a special Ripken logo emblazoned on the seat cushion. The ticket buyers have been invited back to Camden Yards for a private reception to be hosted by Ripken and his wife, Kelly.

Long, who owns a frozen-food brokerage company, got an unexpected thrill. At the pre-game reception, he shook hands and chatted with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.

And when the game was over, the Orioles and Ripken had raised $1.3 million for medical research.

The beauty of the idea was not lost on George Pollack, a long-time lawyer to Gehrig's widow, Eleanor, and executor to the Gehrig estate.

Pollack, who attended the game, called on Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to follow Angelos' example with a similar fund raiser at Yankee Stadium for Lou Gehrig's Disease research.

"Let's see the Yankees do what the Orioles have done so well today," Pollack said.

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