All-Star Game super fan has impressive streak of her own

There is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

There is Cal Ripken's streak of 2,632 consecutive games started.

They're the streaks every baseball fan knows.

And then there is the baseball streak belonging to Jean Marie Tidbit Carrino, her full legal name, though she goes by Tidbit because that's what her uncle called her when he took the 3-pound, 3-ounce squirt of a newborn and tucked her in his shirt pocket.

It might or might not be a record because such records aren't kept.

But there's a good chance the 62-year-old Bob Evans Restaurant waitress from St. Louis holds it. She will be attending her 54th consecutive All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday.

She has been to every one from the time she was 8, starting in 1963 in Cleveland.

"It's my life," she says.

Carrino is sitting in the lobby of a Collins Avenue beachfront condominium wearing a blue Cubs blouse and cap. Her fingernails are polished in Cubs colors. Her lips are painted Cubs red. Her toenails match her fingernails, and her skin is bronzed from hours sitting in the outfield bleachers.

She left during the seventh-inning stretch in St. Louis on Thursday, hopped in a car and drove to South Florida to keep her All-Star streak intact.

Married, she's asked?

"To the game," she replies. "I'm married to baseball. Here's my ring to prove it."

She lifts her left hand, revealing a gold baseball ring on the critical finger.

When it comes to die-hard baseball fans, Tidbit blows Marlins Man out of the water, he in his cushioned front row seats directly behind home plate and she in her aluminum bench seats among the shirtless throngs in the outfield.

She has season tickets to all 81 St. Louis Cardinals home games, 40 Cubs home games and 27 Kansas City Royals home games. She vacations in Arizona in March to see all of the Cubs spring training games.

Not to mention all her All-Star Game trips, year after year after year.

She does all this on the money she piggy-banks from loose-coin tips and the waitressing paychecks she receives from taking breakfast orders while working a 6 a.m.-to-1 p.m. shift. She works mornings, goes to baseball games at night.

"We stay for the whole game," she says. "We don't leave early."

Her Uncle Jack, the same uncle who put her in his shirt pocket and then a cigar box lined with a handkerchief, was the one who started it all. He drove her to the 1963 All-Star Game in Cleveland. They kept going to every All-Star Game after that.

New York in '64. Minneapolis in '65. St. Louis in '66. Anaheim in '67 ...

Sometimes they drove. Sometimes they flew.

To Carrino, the All-Star Game is a bigger deal than the World Series.

"Why the World Series? You're only going to see two teams," she says. "At the All-Star Game, you're going to see the best players from all the teams."

She was there when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. She was there at the '71 All-Star Game in Detroit when Reggie Jackson homered off the light tower atop the stadium roof at Tiger Stadium.

She was there for her favorite All-Star memory, Bo Jackson's tape-measure homer in the 1989 Game in Anaheim.

"What a shot," she says. "I ain't ever seen a home run hit like that. That was a monster."

Through the years, sitting within talking distance of the visiting team's bullpen, she got to know the players. She'd talk to the relievers. She sent chocolate chip cookies and banana bread down to the clubhouse.

Even though she was a Cubs fan, her respect for the sport and those who played it exceeded all else. She didn't boo or heckle.

It saved her life.

While watching the 2003 Home Run Derby at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago — the night before what was to be Carrino's 41st consecutive All-Star Game — she became ill. She was taken a hospital where doctors told her she had liver cancer.

"I was in shock," she says. "I didn't have insurance, so I knew I was going to die."

They let her out to see the All-Star Game, one she figured to be her last.

But Astros closer Billy Wagner found out about her condition and launched a drive to drum up the money for a transplant.

Within 10 days, Wagner raised the $370,000 necessary for the transplant through donations from players around the major leagues.

"Sammy Sosa was involved," she says. "Dusty Baker was involved. Barry Bonds was involved. I would not be here today if it wasn't for them."

On Oct. 10, 2003, she underwent a liver transplant while her beloved Cubs were in the process of collapsing to the Marlins in the playoffs. She missed the infamous Bartman play. She didn't see the Cubs drop the series to the Marlins.

"Do you know what Dusty Baker told me in spring training the next year? 'Tidbit, we couldn't do it because you weren't there.' "

But Tidbit is here now, in Miami, for another All-Star Game. She has no idea whether she holds the record for attending All-Star Games.

"I'm just a fan," she says.

She's just grateful to be on hand to see it, to keep her streak intact.

"Baseball has saved my life," Corrino says in the lobby while wiping tears from her face. "Next year I'll be in Washington, D.C. The following year I'll be in Cleveland, and then it's at Wrigley.

"That's what I'm planning."

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