June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

>Cal Ripken Jr.


IF CAL RIPKEN JR. CAN PLAY in every baseball game for 15 years, 39-year-old Stephen Serio figures he can stand in line for 24 hours to get Iron Cal’s autograph on his new autobiography The Only Way I Know (Viking, $22.95). Still, six cups of coffee and four Cokes after he began waiting at a Towson, Md., Borders bookstore, Serio is feeling the strain. “I’m nervous, my hands are sweating,” he admits. Serio’s son, Nicholas, 12, gives his dad a determined look. “Cal never gives up,” Nicholas says, “and neither do we.”

Ripken, 36, arrives at 12:10 a.m.—looking fresh and sounding upbeat after playing all three hours and 46 minutes of his 2,368th consecutive game, a victory over the Yankees. “I’m usually so wired after the game that this seemed perfect,” he says.

“Cal’s different from the other players,” declares David Jennings, 33, who keeps a shrine to the Baltimore Orioles’ No. 8 at his York, Pa., home. “He cares about the fans.” Ripken retires 16 felt-tip pens as he signs all 2,000 books, demolishing the store’s record. At 3:10 a.m. he cheerfully greets the last fan in line, 3-year-old Ryan Belton. Says the boy’s mom, Daphne, 35: “I’d like Ryan to have a hero, and Cal’s a real live one.”

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