- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. On the day pitchers and catchers reported, the biggest news to come out of Baltimore Orioles camp involved their oldest position player.

Cal Ripken, who has spent the entire offseason getting his chronically bad back in shape, found out yesterday he has a fractured rib that will keep him out 2-4 weeks.

"I'm a little sad and a little disappointed," said the 40-year-old third baseman, who is beginning his 20th season with the Orioles. "I've been working really hard this offseason, and my workouts were getting more aggressive as spring training was approaching. "I'm saddened because I was really looking forward to showing up in shape."

Ripken suffered a hairline fracture of the sixth right anterior rib. He said he is unsure how the injury occurred, though it likely took place sometime Monday while he was diving for balls during defensive drills or later that evening while playing basketball.

"I don't know exactly when or how I did it," Ripken said. "I couldn't tell you if there was one hit that caused it. Somewhere along the line, I cracked my rib."

Ripken was quick to minimize the injury, calling it a "small bump in the road." He said he will still report with the rest of the position players Monday, though he will be unable to swing a bat for at least two weeks.

Asked if he would be shocked not to play Opening Day (April 2 vs. Boston), Ripken replied, "Yes."

Eighteen months removed from back surgery, Ripken appeared to be in perhaps his best health since his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games ended in September 1998. He has spent the last four months working out on and off the baseball field, and plays basketball four or five times a week.

Limited to only 169 games the last two seasons combined, Ripken signed a one-year contract in November and has talked of playing 120 games in 2001.

"The great news is that my back has been unbelievably good," he said. "Early on, I had some tightness and stiffness. But I've been able to make some significant strides. I haven't had any problems."

That was, until Tuesday. Ripken said he had trouble sleeping that night and woke up with pain in his rib cage.

"The breathing part concerned me," he said. "I couldn't take full air in, and when I coughed it hurt."

Ripken will have to shut down any upper body work for a few weeks, won't swing a bat and probably won't throw a baseball. But he doesn't think his overall progress will be hindered much by this latest injury.

"Spring training is too long for a regular player, so I don't feel that I'm losing out too much," he said. "A two-week period or three-week period is not going to hurt that much. It will make spring training seem shorter."

Baseball's "Ironman" for the last two decades, Ripken spent the first 17 years of his career injury-free, beginning his streak of consecutive games in May 1982.

Since ending the streak by his own choice three years ago, he has been plagued by back trouble, limiting him to only 86 games in 1999 and 83 in 2000.

His other numbers have not been affected by the injuries. Ripken picked up his 3,000th hit last April, and finished the season with seven doubles, 13 RBI and a .307 batting average in September, prompting him to sign the one-year deal.

Ever the optimist, Ripken said he was fortunate the injury occurred now, not during the height of his winter conditioning.

"I've made huge gains in the offseason," he said. "The last couple of seasons, I felt limited. But I have all kinds of freedom this year to do whatever I want. I won't lose that."

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