It wasn't the most financially responsible thing to do, but to Chip Drost, this was no time to consider money matters.
All that mattered to Drost was getting to Camden Yards last night to see Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak -- even if it meant driving last weekend from Sarasota, Fla., where Drost grew up and got to know Ripken while watching him play in spring training in the late 1970s.
Since then, Drost hasn't missed an Orioles camp. And since 1981, he has collected Cal memorabilia with Ripken-like dedication. Sweatbands, towels, batting gloves, a cracked bat, even a lock of Cal's hair that he retrieved after trying on one of Ripken's caps following a spring training game. Drost figures he has about 1,200 Ripken pieces.
"I used to sit under the palm trees and talk to Cal when nobody knew who he was," said Drost, 32, who owns a cleaning company. "I knew he was going to be something special, because he came from a baseball family. He's never changed his demeanor, never boasted about himself. In essence, the man is living my dream."
"We really couldn't afford this trip, but I told my wife that I couldn't afford not to be there," he said.
Drost, who drives a Toyota with a license plate that reads "8--Ripken," has seen Ripken play a handful of times in Baltimore. But to get to last night's historic game, he had to beat out "about 19 other people" in line for a favor from a friend.
"Some people might think I've gone overboard. My wife thinks I'm half-baked," he said. "But I think I've got her converted."
One fan who needed no such persuasion was 76-year-old Henry Johnsen of Elicott City.
The night was historically poignant for Johnsen. Fifty-six years ago, the New York City native sat in Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day, when the ailing legend delivered his famous "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech.
"I'm grateful that the good Lord has allowed me the opportunity to be at both of them [occasions]. There's a great deal of similarity between the two players," said Johnsen, whose son took him to the game with an extra season ticket.
"Babe Ruth used to get more press. Then, Joe DiMaggio came up as a rookie and got lots of attention. But when you went to Yankee Stadium, you knew Gehrig was going to be on first base and do a good job. That's what you took for granted," he said.
"Ripken is the same way. If baseball ever needed an example, he has provided it this season."
Larry Baumschen, a 54-year-old retired brewery bottler from Portland, Ore., thinks pretty highly of Ripken's example as well.
He bought tickets to the game in May, then bought a 1988 Lincoln to replace his broken-down pickup truck, so he could drive to Baltimore to see Ripken play in his 2,131st consecutive game.
"I've been saying for the last 10 years to the guys at work that Cal was going to do it, and I would always say, 'When he does it, I'm going to be there,' " said Baumschen, who has been an Orioles fan since watching Brooks Robinson play 30 years ago. He sports a tattoo of the Oriole bird on his left shoulder.
"I got out of the Army and I liked Brooks," he said. "Now, Cal is my hero."
Bob and Dordie Blevins, two longtime Orioles fans, marked Ripken's big day by starting a streak of their own. They got married yesterday at the Ellicott City courthouse, before heading to the game.
"Cal's breaking a 50-year-old record and I'm breaking 32 years of bachelorhood," Bob said. "This is a big day for us. Cal means a lot to us. He's the guy who comes to work every day. He's like us."
The couple paid $420 for their tickets last night, and they plan to honeymoon in Florida during spring training next year.
Lee Dubs had never been to Baltimore before yesterday. But, after the Spanish professor from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C., secured a ticket through baseball coach Gary Swanson -- he coaches a son of Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks -- Dubs didn't think twice about making the eight-hour drive.
Dubs arrived with two St. Andrews baseball players about four hours before game time yesterday, and was due back in North Carolina to teach at 12:30 this afternoon.
"I thought he [Swanson] was pulling my leg," said Dubs, who found out last month that he had a hot ticket. "My wife is jealous, and this is great."