The open qualifiers for the BMX Park competition at the Panasonic Open had just concluded, and 19-year-old AST Dew Tour rookie Mike Spinner placed third, easily earning a spot in the next round. But that's not why he was smiling.
"Let's go see my poster!" Spinner exclaimed to a friend, referring to an ad that his newest sponsor, who signed him only a week ago, had created in time for this event.
Pushing his bike as he walked through the crowd (he left his athlete credential back at his hotel room), the young Floridian with curly brown hair tucked underneath his cap talked about the past 12 months, in which he has gone from relative obscurity to world traveler to being tabbed as one of the hottest young BMX (bicycle motocross) riders to emerge on the action sports scene in 2007.
Casual fans might not know much about him yet, but word has spread quickly through the riding community, and Spinner is routinely stopped by other athletes offering their praises.
"Dude, I was checking you out on YouTube earlier," one rider said as he was walking by. Later, another athlete came up to Spinner and talked with him for a few minutes, gushing about his performance and carrying on like they were best friends. After he left, Spinner was asked who the guy was.
"I have no idea," the teenager said.
"I saw Dave on TV and I was hooked," said Spinner, who now rides for Mirra's company.
After graduating from high school in 2006, Spinner focused on trying to make it as a pro. He won a local competition, which earned him a free week at the prestigious Camp Woodward in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. The camp, which is to action sports what the Bollettieri Academy is to young tennis players, is where Spinner now lives and rides part time.
Winning a minor league contest in Portland, Ore., last August earned Spinner a wild-card entry into the Dew Tour's Orlando, Fla., competition and a shot at the pros.
In Orlando, he caught Mirra's attention. The multiple X Games champion quickly struck a deal to sponsor Spinner and within weeks had him competing overseas.
Mainstream sponsors caught on as well, and soon Spinner had his own version of what was referred to as "the four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar" in the movie Jerry Maguire.
Spinner's included deals with a shoe company, soft drink, bike manufacturer and hot dog maker, all of which came before his rookie year.
"I call him the LeBron James of BMX," Mirra said.
Spinner, who also enjoys playing chess, takes his responsibilities as a product endorser as seriously as he does his riding, always looking for a chance to mention them by name.
At one point, he pulled an empty soft drink can out of his bag and filled it with water for a TV interview. While some might consider that selling out, Spinner sees it as merely showing his appreciation for those who make it possible for him to be living his dream.
"Without my sponsors I wouldn't get to do what I love to do, which is hang out and ride my bike every day," Spinner said. "I support them because they support me. It can't get any better than that."
Despite all the attention he has received, there appears to be no jealousy from other riders, and Spinner's personality has won him points on the tour.
"He's just a really nice kid," Mirra said. "He's respectful, he's a great rider and he treats everybody well."
Dew Tour veteran Austin Coleman agreed, saying that fellow riders respect Spinner for the way he came up through the minor leagues and how he has conducted himself.
"A lot of guys who are really good on bikes don't have the ability to go out there and network and meet different people," said Coleman, who is in his second year on tour. "Mike really has the ability to do that and guys respect that a lot."
That ability is what has Spinner's name coming out of the mouths of many in the industry when asked who could be the next big breakout star. Veteran riders, corporate sponsors and action sports tour executives all see potential greatness in Spinner.
"He's absolutely an up-and-coming star," said AST Dew Tour general manager Wade Martin, who considers Spinner to be at the forefront of the next wave of talent to enter action sports.
Asked if the tour has high hopes for Spinner, Martin said, "I think the entire BMX community does."
Camden Yards sports complex, through today
Tickets: Online through Ticketmaster or at M&T; Bank Stadium box office. Daily pass, $15; daily children (12 and younger), $5; premium, $100.
TV: Today, 4-6 p.m., chs. 11, 4.
Gates open at noon
BMX park practice: Noon-1
BMX park finals: 1-2:30
FMX practice: 2:30-3:45
FMX finals: 3:45-6
Key: BMX-bicycle motocross; FMX-freestyle motocross; SKB-skateboard.