Watch out, Cal Ripken Jr. Step back, Brady Anderson. Take a rest, Eddie Murray.
Competition is on the way. The Baltimore Police Department has issued trading cards -- mugs of their officers who want to become a different kind of hero for the city's youth.
They aren't likely to be eyed by starry-eyed children with dreams of ball fields and hot dogs, but for hundreds of students at Edgewood Elementary School yesterday, the cards quickly became reason to smile.
"This is great," said a beaming Cierra Lewis, 7, a second-grade student showing off her new collection of Baltimore's Finest. "I like police officers. They help children. They hunt drug dealers and addicts. They keep me safe."
More than 40 police officers, including Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, went to the West Baltimore school to tout the new public relations initiative, designed to get children to put a face with their neighborhood cop.
"There are a lot of ways to get to know us, and we want you to work with us," Frazier told the group assembled in the school's cafeteria, using the opportunity to sell his Police Athletic League program.
"I want you to think about being PAL kids," the commissioner said. "It's about being safe. It's about being smart, and it's about having a lot of fun. We want you to be partners with us."
Michael Sarbane, executive director of the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention, told the youngsters that "the real heroes are police officers. They work hard. They risk their lives for you every day. Their job is to make our communities safe."
When the speeches were over, the children descended in packs to the dining tables, where officers sat poised to meet their new fans. Each signed more than 250 cards.
"This is the personal side of the Police Department," said Officer Milton L. Corbett.
"We try to tell kids: 'It's OK to have friends in the Police Department.' We try to catch them before the drug dealers and the addicts do."
Police trading cards are not new. Two years ago, a community relations officer in Baltimore County started making them, after getting the idea from departments in the West and Midwest.
Each of the cards has a color picture of the officer on the front and the officer's background and a safety tip printed on the back. For example, Col. Ronald L. Daniel, who attended Edgewood Elementary School when it opened in 1959, gives the definition of a friend.
"Through good times and bad, a real friend will not push you into trying drugs or alcohol," Daniel's safety tip reads. "Make your own decisions. You are your own best friend."
More than 360 city police officers now appear on trading cards, sponsored by the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. But sports figures probably shouldn't worry too much.
A first-issue, mint-condition Ronald Daniel card, for example, will be worth "at least 50 cents apiece" in about five years, said Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum.
That compares to $120 to $150 for a rookie Ripken card. But that shouldn't make it less appealing.
"I think it's a good thing for the kids," said Bill Kulick, vice president of NationsBank and an appraiser for the Babe Ruth Museum.
"Kids collect sports cards. Everybody idolizes sports figures. They ought to idolize police officers. They ought to take it one step further and do it for teachers."
Pub Date: 12/10/96