He signs their Fotoballs and then their programs—or their shirts, ticket stubs, popcorn boxes, whatever they want, as many as they want. If they want him to use their pens, he caps his and signs with theirs. (One guy's pen doesn't work, so Cal rubs the point on his own palm till it satisfactorily marks up his hand.) If they don't ask him something, Cal asks them. "Favorite hat?" Cal says as he bends to sign one kid's sweaty headgear.
"It is now," says one of the cops.
Cal never lets a kid leave without a word from him. "You ready for bed?" Cal says to a yawning little girl. "I feel that way, too."
But he doesn't look ready for bed at all—stoked up is more like it, in high enjoyment. He doesn't just hold out his hand for the next ball and the next ball...he looks up and fixes each fan with the shock of his light-blue eyes and a greeting. The cops warn him a couple of times that fans are still piling into line in the concourse—the line stretches now from the right side of home plate halfway to the left-field corner. "That's O.K.," Cal says. He keeps signing and talking.
"How'd you break your arm?" he says to a boy as he signs his cast, then his Fotoball, then his hat. "Your bike? Jumpin' a couple of cars? Or you just fell off.... How long you got to have it on?...Well, that's O.K. You can still play other games, can't you?" (The kid just shakes his head, mute with awe.)
The grown-ups, who didn't get Fotoballs, bring Ripken whatever they have. One woman hands over her shoe. "I'd like to sign it inconspicuously," says Cal, turning it over, "so you can still wear it." Says the woman: "I'll wear it." Maybe a hundred parents push kids forward and then back away, making motions of entreaty with their cameras. Each time, Cal leans in next to the kid—"Cheese," he says. ("Oh, didn't wind? Try again. Cheese and crackers.") Teenage girls are in that breathless, open-mouthed, near-tears state known to doctors as Deep Elvis. They want to kiss him. Cal demurs. They want to hug him. Cal leans in. "Not too close," he'll say. "I'm all sweaty." (They don't mind.)
At midnight it is still near 90° on the field. The rest of the vast yard is silent and empty, in a strange surfeit of light. The grounds crew has finished with the mound, home plate and infield. The rest of the stands are clean and bare. Supper has long since been cleared in the clubhouse. The locker room is also empty save for a couple of attendants cleaning, putting laundry away. Still there are fans, stretched in a line down the concourse. And Cal keeps signing: "Is that Katie with an i-e?"
The police lieutenant, Russell Shea, leans in behind Cal. "I'll be the bad guy, O.K.?" he says. Cal nods but keeps signing and talking. Shea calls Cal "the finest gentleman I've met, bar none—and I've been stadium commander for two years." So he lets Cal make the schedule. He leans in again: "You want anything? Cold drink?" Cal shakes his head. He is still in full uniform, his forearms shining with sweat, his ankles still taped. For most of the last hour and a half, he has stood on one leg while he propped each ball, photograph or program on his left knee—so he could sign just right. Shea, unbidden, brings a bottle of Powerade. Cal keeps signing.
"Let me stretch out your shirt, so I can sign it right."
"Yeah, this picture's rookie year. You want me to sign on this leg?"