Dan Derleth has been collecting Cal Ripken Jr. memorabilia for 12 years
now - a streak that would make his favorite player proud.
"My focus on Ripken cards began around 1991 when the
buzz about breaking Gehrig's consecutive game streak was picking up steam," he says.
But even prior to this, the Rochester
native had been admiring the all-star infielder.
"I became a fan shortly after I read an article in the late '80s
describing how he lived about a block away from where I grew up when his dad was managing for the Rochester Red Wings (former
Orioles' Triple A affiliate)," he recalls.
Born in the same year as the future Hall of Famer, Derleth says he may
have even played with Ripken as a youngster.
"When I was 12 or 13, I remember playing pick-up games with the neighborhood
kids," he says. "I don't recall playing against him, but I might have."
In a short Triple A stint in 1981, Ripken
actually suited up for Rochester; unfortunately, Derleth was away at college at the time. But his absence didn't stop him
from following the O's shortstop and accumulating memorabilia. Through shows and the Internet, Derleth amassed more than 900
cards of his idol.
However, the advent of short print and one-of-one cards made it impossible for him to amass all
of his hero's cards, so he decided to sell them and start a collection of game-used memorabilia.
Today, he owns approximately
30 of the 19-time all-star's game-used items, including jerseys, bats, cleats and a fielder's glove.
"That glove is
the pride and joy of my collection," he says. "I traded a beautiful, heavily used '98 McGwire bat and several Orioles
game-used jerseys for the glove - along with cash."
It was a steep price, but it's the type of transaction that
Ripken collectors are accustomed to, says Derleth. The demand for the legend's game-used items, combined with
their scarcity, drives their prices up.
"Cal Ripken game-used equipment is very hard to find," he says. "Cal's
not one to market his stuff like a lot of major leaguers...He's held onto to most of his stuff."
The items that Derleth
has managed to purchase are meticulously displayed in the "former" dining room of his house.
"I call it my little
Ripken Museum. I have several acrylic display cases for my jerseys, bats, helmets, and baseballs," he says.
And if this doesn't convince you that Derleth
is one of Ripken's biggest fans, he also has vanity plates on his car that read "RIPKEN JR."
"I got the plates in
2000. I figured that if people think I'm a Ripken collector, I might as well 'look' the part," he explains. "What
better way to show my respect for a gentlemen I admire than to put his name on my license plate."
Over the years,
the devoted collector has also accumulated numerous autographed items.
"I have several bats, a jersey, 20 baseballs,
a mid-'80s helmet, a batting glove, scores of magazines and photos - all autographed," he says.
Some of the items
were signed in person when the Orioles held exhibition games in Rochester.
"I attended most of those throughout the
years," he says. "The last exhibition game was in 1997, I had the privilege to get into the park before the regular crowd -
thanks to a friend in the team store - and spent probably three or four minutes talking to Cal. It was a distinct
pleasure that I'll never forget."
Moments like this, along with Ripken's work ethic and kind nature have won him a
permanent fan in Derleth.
"The first and foremost reason that I'm a fan is that I respect the work ethic and persona
he emits as a human being. Outside of being a sports hero, he is a genuinely down to earth and humble person.
He represents what's good in the world of sports and what all professional players should aspire to be," he says.
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