They are baseballs that dreams are made of, and everyone seems to have a dream of owning them.
The balls that Cal Ripken hit for home runs in Tuesday's record-tying game and last night's record-breaking one are wanted by Ripken, the Orioles, the Babe Ruth Museum, and just about any other collector with any sense of baseball history.
"This is what the game of baseball is all about: the defining of itself through historic moments," Michael Gibbons, director of the Babe Ruth Museum, said yesterday afternoon.
Tuesday night, Ripken hit the homer in the sixth inning, minutes after receiving his fifth-inning ovation. The ball bounced into the hands of Michael Stirn, a 32-year-old carpenter from Sykesville.
Stirn has been inundated with offers for the ball, including from an unidentified fan who approached him minutes after the home run and offered him 25 crisp, new $100 bills he pulled out of his pocket.
"Even while I was talking to him in the stands, people were stuffing their cards in his pockets," said Orioles assistant public relations director Bill Stetka, who escorted Stirn out of his left-field seat. "He understands the historical significance of [the ball], and we've discussed trading some memorabilia for it."
Last night, Ripken's homer came before the ovation, in the fourth inning. Bryan Johnson, 33, a public health services employee from Pasadena, caught the drive, which wrapped around the left-field foul pole, despite a huge cast on his broken right hand and wrist.
"The ball bounced and I grabbed it with my left hand and I held on for life," said Johnson, a season-ticket holder in Section 78 who said he had never caught a ball before.
Johnson, who said he told his girlfriend, Kathleen, before the homer "get ready to catch it cus here it comes," said he'd be happy to give the ball to Ripken, despite an offer of $5,000 for it right after the catch.
"This is Cal's moment," said Johnson, who for his protection was quickly led from his seat by Orioles officials. "This is the perfect moment."
Stirn, who so far apparently has refused all offers, couldn't be reached yesterday.
Lee Sherman, owner of American Baseball Classics shop at Harborplace, said it's difficult to estimate what the home run balls are worth.
"I don't know. Clearly the person who was offering $2,500 thought it was worth more than that," Sherman said. "It's the kind of piece that is unique. I'm sure it's worth a lot to Cal, and I think that's the right place for it -- in Cal's collection."