Ripkens say, Give us an 'M' - and more

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One of the most memorable features of Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium may soon be back on public view - in Aberdeen.

Baltimore's Board of Estimates has approved a request from former Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken and their associates to lease the 15 letters that spelled Memorial Stadium on the front of the now-demolished ballpark and re-erect them at the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy next to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.

The decision marks the second time this year that a city panel has agreed to let a piece of Baltimore history be relocated to another jurisdiction in Maryland. Last April, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation approved a plan to move stained glass windows from the Basilica of the Assumption to a new church in Howard County.

The Ripken Youth Baseball Academy, an affiliate of Ripken Baseball, has created four little league ballfields next to three-year-old Ripken Stadium, which was built at a cost of $18 million as home of the minor league Aberdeen Ironbirds. This year, 6,000 boys (and a few girls) from 33 states played in the adjoining baseball academy; twice as many are expected next year.

As a further development of the baseball academy, Ripken plans to build scaled-down replicas of four major league stadiums - Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Memorial Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field - around the existing fields.

According to a memo sent to the Board of Estimates from George Winfield, director of Baltimore's Department of Public Works, Ripken Baseball requested the use of the letters to be displayed on the replica of Memorial Stadium, "in honor of the former stadium and all of the fans that attended events at the stadium, and in remembrance of the stadium's memorial to those who fought in the world wars."

Using the stainless steel letters salvaged from the stadium "will create a truer replica and give those who attend games at the complex an opportunity to view the lettering, some possibly for the first time," Winfield continued

"We're really pleased to have them," said John Maroon, vice president for communications with Ripken Baseball. "Memorial Stadium meant so much to Cal and Billy and Cal's father. The way Cal looks at it, it was a great place to play. Cal played so much of his career there. We want to pay tribute to Memorial Stadium and its history. ... The idea is to show Memorial Stadium in a positive light."

Built in 1953, Memorial Stadium was the longtime home of the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Orioles. It was demolished starting in 2001, nearly a decade after the Orioles moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, to make way for a senior housing community and YMCA branch. The stadium's Memorial Wall, which bore the letters, was kept up briefly after the rest of the stadium was gone, but eventually it was taken down as well.

At 10-feet tall, the 15 letters were the largest on the stadium's memorial wall. They featured an art moderne typeface that was designed specifically for Memorial Stadium. According to city documents, they have an estimated value of $3,500.

The lease approved on Oct. 27 runs from April 26, 2004, to April 25, 2014. The baseball academy has yearly options to renew until 2024, when all letters must be returned to the city. The academy agreed to lease the letters for $1 a year, "if requested," and to repair, maintain and secure the letters while it possesses them.

This is the second time a group has received permission to take letters from the front of Memorial Stadium and move them to another location.

Last year, the Maryland Stadium Authority, working with veterans groups, dedicated a memorial to war veterans at Camden Yards. It contains letters from the stadium that spell out the phrase, "Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds," the last line from a longer inscription.

From a preservation standpoint, allowing some of the letters to go to Camden Yards and some to go to Aberdeen is not the ideal way to honor a monument dedicated to World War II veterans, according to Fred Shoken, a local preservationist.

Shoken said he was disappointed to learn that the largest stadium letters were leaving Baltimore because he hoped they might one day be mounted on a wall elsewhere in the city, possibly as part of a new downtown arena.

"It was probably the most important World War II memorial that was built in the city," he said. "It should be re-erected in some way. ... Leasing these letters to Cal Ripken makes it much more doubtful that anything like that will happen. In the city called the Monumental City, we didn't do a very good job with this monument."

The letters are now in storage in Aberdeen. Maroon said he does not have an exact timetable for when they will go on display and could not provide any drawings to show exactly how they will be used. But he promised that the Ripken organization will use them well.

"We want to do it right," he said. "Whatever we do, people in Baltimore will be proud."

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