Travelin' man in league of his own among fans

THE BALTIMORE SUN

That familiar face in the crowd. Try to remember where you saw him before. He's a man living a sports odyssey. By way of introduction, meet M. Delmar Ritchie Jr., an effervescent individual who has a magnet for a personality and the perseverance and charm to find available tickets even after the "sold out" sign is posted be it Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, World Series, Masters or East Coast Horseshoe Pitching Championship.

Ritchie, a resident of Sherwood Forest, travels a large part of the English-speaking world in quest of sports entertainment. Since he began to compile the list in 1986, he figures he has watched 565 sports competitions, including the Olympics, horse racing's Triple Crown (he went to all three this year), stock car races, the Indianapolis 500, World Rugby Classics, the four major golf championships, Orioles games and as much of the Maryland/Johns Hopkins/Navy lacrosse schedules as time permits.

He generally orders in advance and has paid scalpers' prices on only rare occasions. When pressed, he explains it was to accommodate late-arriving guests who wanted to see the Orioles at Camden Yards. He has viewed cricket matches in Bermuda and England, hunted pheasant in Ireland and fished the waters of Alaska. He goes to the standard major attractions on a regular basis, but couldn't ignore the horseshoe-pitching championship in 1990 and 1995.

On the road attending events, near and far, doesn't mean he rejects what's happening in his own bailiwick. He's a Maryland and Navy football ticket subscriber, which means an occasional doubleheader. "We have to define a choice if both are home in the afternoon," he said. "But if one plays then and the other at night, it means two tailgate parties, before and after both games. That, I can tell you, can be tough."

But, Del, of course, is always a smiling survivor. He has the utmost respect and admiration for the Naval Academy. "It's a special place," he says. "My hero -- in reverse you might say -- was Roger Staubach. He was at Navy when I was a grown man, but I still wanted him as a hero. A credit to America as an athlete, gentleman and naval officer. We've been to 34 of the last 39 Army-Navy games, and Roger was like no other player in the way he could rally a team."

On a personal basis, Ritchie mixes in some other names from the past as his favorites. He mentions Bill Gaudreau, who lives his summers in Sherwood Forest and played football at Notre Dame in 1951 before being injured. "Yeah, I put Gaudreau, who I still remember wore No. 5, on a list that includes Richie Ashburn, Stan Musial and Bobby Thomson. And I could never forget

Bernie Faloney, who played at Maryland and then was a true wonder in the Canadian Football League."

Ritchie has Faloney's jersey and others from John Unitas and Brooks Robinson framed in his sports memorabilia gallery in the basement of his stylish home, surrounded by a canopy of towering trees that gives Sherwood Forest its individuality. From the ceiling downstairs, he has a display of 2,915 logo caps (no duplicates) and counting. Pictures, too, of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, both with impressive sports backgrounds.

He's proud of grandfather Buddy Overend, who was athletic director at Carnegie Tech from 1919 to 1953, and also namesake Delmar Ritchie, who captained both the football and baseball teams at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1890s and was Pennsylvania State Amateur golf champion in 1921.

"You know, Carnegie Tech beat Notre Dame four times in the 19 games they played. I was only 6 years old, but I was there the last time they met, in 1941, playing in the rain. Knute Rockne and grandfather Buddy were great friends, and twice Rockne visited him in Sherwood."

Del met his wife, Joanne, when both attended Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), and she usually accompanies him on sports forays, but has made one exception, usually preferring to pass up golf championships. "I will try again to whet her appetite in a couple weeks when we go to the British Open," says Del. "Golf is a different kind of spectator sport."

The best event of them all, including the Olympics, major horse racing classics, Super Bowl, World Series, et al, in his opinion is the Masters tournament. It was in 1986 that he saw his first Masters, won by Jack Nicklaus, and that fermented his interest in continuing to attend. Two friends, Parker Chapman and Bob Schnabel, have helped him get tickets, but then he embarks on finding a house to rent for the duration of his stay in Georgia.

He is a fixture for four days behind the ropes at the first tee of Augusta National, and the starter usually recognizes him by saying, "Good morning, Del." Ritchie, age 61, is a round-faced cherub of a man, an extrovert who has never met a stranger. Meet him and his soft, gentle manner has a way of forging a friendship.

An example: He was at Troon for the British Open in 1989. A Scot came up to inquire, "Where you from, Yank? Where you staying, Yank?" He told him, and it happened to be on the next street in Prestwick. That's how Ritchie and Scott Wilson formed an international acquaintance. In 1992, he was attending the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Tom Kite's year) when he got talking to another fan, who said, "My name is Peter Paulson, and it looks as if we both suffer from the same disease -- following sports all over."

Paulson invited him to the coming Rose Bowl. That's the way it happened, an opportunity to attend the Tournament of Roses Parade and then watch the game in one splendid scenic setting, looking on in grand old Pasadena with the San Gabriel Mountains, showing snow at their crests, visible in the distance, while palm trees rimmed the stadium property. Winter and summer simultaneously.

Is there an event he wouldn't care to see again? "Yes, the Final Four. I've been to 11 ACC basketball tournaments, like the game, but the Final Four is too much hassle to ever want to go back."

How about the best place to visit? "Maybe I'm a bit partial, being Scottish, but Edinburgh is the most civilized city in the world. A center for education, outstanding museums. But the most impressive thing is to see how people conduct themselves. If the rest of the world could be that way, we'd all be so much better off."

Ritchie, with a degree in industrial management, has spent 40 years with the Poole and Kent Co., of Baltimore and is president of its Monumental Investment Corp., with which he rarely takes a vacation but, for the most part, uses what he calls "long weekends" to do his spectating. He spoke with Arnold Palmer at his last British Open and has high-fived with Fuzzy Zoeller right on the course.

A son, Kyle, once a director of scoreboard operations for the Orioles and now in a similar position with the Carolina Panthers, joined him for this year's Masters. "You ask me why I do this, being on the move so much, working projects for the company in Bermuda for the last two years and then flying off to watch sports. For 42 years I also played in the Sunday morning softball games between the marrieds and the singles at Sherwood.

"I obviously like sports. I'm sure there are other fans who see more games of all kinds than I do. I'm asked about why I do it. And, as I have mentioned to Parker Chapman, I do it because you are only on this earth so long, and if you have the opportunity to enjoy sports at the highest level, then why not avail yourself?"

He's not sure, but maybe his interest in sports can be attributed to when, as a child, living in Westfield, N.J., he was introduced to fun and games by going to the Six Day Bicycle Races at Madison Square Garden. That prepares you for just about anything.

And is there something else he'd like to include on his itinerary? He says his friend Faloney mentioned the Calgary Stampede. Yes, it's on his future calendar of "things to do."

Pub Date: 6/22/97

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