Injured Cal Ripken hasn't announced whether he will be in uniform next season, but some fans are preparing for what may be the final milestone in his historic career by buying up tickets to the Orioles' last game of this season.
The team reports only a handful of seats remain for the Oct. 1 game against the New York Yankees.
Ticket brokers, who make their living buying and reselling tickets to sporting events and other attractions, say their prices are on the rise, with seats for Oct. 1 running as high as $200 for a prime view.
The buyers are speculating that Ripken, who is on the disabled list with pain from nerve irritation in his lower back, will return to the field but call it quits at the end of the season, when his current contract expires.
"There's definitely a buzz," said Danny Matta, owner of Great Seats Inc., a ticket brokerage based in College Park.
He has gotten only a few calls, but has priced his cache of upper-level, right-field seats at $125 on the assumption that it could be the venerable infielder's last game. If Ripken ends up retiring before the end of the season, prices may fall, he said. But if the player says he will retire after the season, the prices could go higher.
"It's like the stock market or buying futures," Matta said.
Baseball's most durable player, who holds the record for consecutive games, Ripken once seemed destined to play forever. But nagging pain has landed Ripken on the disabled list two times in this, his 19th full major-league season, and forced him to miss the All-Star Game for the first time since his rookie season.
He required help off the field after running to first base on June 27 and hasn't played since. Only this week did he begin throwing gently and hitting off a tee.
All of this has fueled speculation that Ripken, who turns 40 on Aug. 24, may bow out at the end of the season. His attorney and business manager, Ira Rainess, said yesterday that the two have not discussed retirement.
"It's not even an issue that has come up," Rainess said.
Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said only a few hundred seats remain for the final series, when the Yankees come to town for games on Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 1. "We are basically down to scattered singles and limited-view seats," he said.
Yankees games are generally strong sellers, and the last games of the season tend to go fast on the anticipation -- overly optimistic, as it happens this year -- that a pennant might be on the line.
But the team heard from some ticket buyers earlier in the year that they wanted to attend Ripken's last game, Stetka said.
Other milestones in Ripken's storied career meant demand, causing scalpers' prices to rise, especially the game in which he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games mark.
Peter Jacobsen, president of Executive Tickets in Catonsville, said he's selling tickets for the Oct. 1 game for $40 to $200, depending on location. There haven't been a lot of calls yet, he said.
"I think everybody is waiting to see something more definite," Jacobsen said.
He is going to keep the price up until a decision is forthcoming from the Ripken camp.
"We don't want to give them away in case it turns out to be Cal's last game," Jacobsen said.