- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

BALTIMORE He first appeared in his familiar No. 8 jersey 20 years ago, the bright-eyed kid of a renowned baseball man with no idea what the future held in store for him.
Last night, after two decades, 3,001 games and a lifetime of memories, he donned that uniform for the last time as a city and the sporting world offered one last heartfelt goodbye.
Cal Ripken is no longer a major league baseball player. Hard as it is to believe, Ripken is now an ex-Baltimore Oriole.
His last game in uniform won't be remembered for what he did on the field - Ripken was an undistinguished 0-for-3 at the plate in the Orioles' 5-1 season-ending loss to the Boston Red Sox. It will be remembered by the 48,807 fans who packed themselves into every crevice of Camden Yards as an unforgettable night filled with continuous tributes for a ballplayer the likes of which may never be seen again.
Honored before the game with an hour-long ceremony that included gifts, dedications and glowing tributes from a variety of contemporaries, team officials and one former president, Ripken saved the best for last.
Standing on the left-side infield dirt between his two positions of shortstop and third base, with the stadium lights turned off save for a couple of spotlights, Ripken offered his personal goodbye to baseball in a brief speech centered around his lifelong dream of playing baseball.
"One question I've repeatedly been asked is how do I want to be remembered," he said. "My answer is simple: To be remembered at all is pretty special. If I am remembered, I hope it's because by living my dream I was able to make a difference. Thank you."
Ripken certainly did everything within his power to attempt to provide one last moment of baseball glory. Facing Red Sox pitcher David Cone on a night when the 38-year-old veteran was at his best, Ripken lined out hard to the left field warning track in his first at-bat, popped out to shortstop his next time up and lofted a high fly out to center field amid a flurry of flashbulbs in his final plate appearance.
"I have never been around a player that commands the respect that Cal commands," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "I don't mean just adulation. I mean admiration and respect."
He nearly got one more chance to bat. With two outs in the ninth and longtime teammate and best friend Brady Anderson at the plate, Ripken came out to the on-deck circle. Amid the chants of "we want Cal," Anderson struck out swinging at a 3-2 fastball from closer Ugueth Urbina, leaving Ripken standing in the on-deck circle as his playing career officially ended.
The final career numbers that will be etched into the record books include 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, 1,627 RBI, a lifetime .276 batting average and a record streak of 2,632 consecutive games that may never be broken.
The postgame festivities began with Ripken taking a victory lap around Camden Yards in the back seat of a convertible as sparkling orange confetti streamed from the stands. The lights then dimmed as images of Ripken during different stages of his career were projected onto the B&O; Warehouse in right field and four Oriole greats Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and manager Earl Weaver walked together toward center field. At the fence, they were greeted by Ripken, who then walked alone to the infield to deliver his speech.
Visibly choked up by the magnitude of the moment, the stoic Iron Man struggled to compose himself for several minutes before he could begin speaking. His remarks were brief, poignant and from the heart.
"I was kind of concerned that I might not be able to deliver it right," he said afterward. "So I made myself wait until a point where I felt I could get through it. The feelings have gotten stronger and stronger, and today just standing out there thinking and reflecting that this was the last time, you feel really strong."
Said rookie teammates Jay Gibbons:"It was absolutely an amazing night. It was impossible not to get choked up. Me and everybody else were hanging on his every word."
With his immediate family at his side on a crisp and clear October evening that included a stirring, orange-tinted sunset, Ripken was treated to an hour-long pregame ceremony that featured a parade of material gifts and several non-tangible tributes, such as the renaming of Lee Street outside the stadium to Ripken Way and baseball commissioner Bud Selig's creation of the Cal Ripken Jr. Award (to be given to anyone who plays in all of his team's games over a full season).
More moving than those honors, though, were two heartfelt tributes: the retiring of Ripken's No. 8 by the four former Oriole greats and the unveiling of a portrait of the late Cal Ripken Sr. and a plaque in his name that will be hung in the Baltimore dugout.
Clearly moved by the large portrait of his father, a member of the Orioles organization for three decades, Ripken sat for several minutes with wife Kelly comforting him. With the Orioles having never officially honored the patriarch of the franchise's most significant family, last night was as much a tribute to Ripken Sr. as it was to Ripken Jr.
"That was the most powerful thing for me," he said. "For what my dad meant to me, it was everything."
There weren't a great number of surprises, but two stood out. Former President Bill Clinton, who was in attendance the night Ripken broke Gehrig's streak, made a brief pregame appearance, saying, "Most important to me, [Ripken is] the kind of son every father would like his son to grow up to be."
The bigger surprise occurred as the Orioles took the field for the national anthem. Ripken sprinted out from the Baltimore dugout as usual, but instead of being joined by his current teammates he turned to see seven of his teammates from Aug. 12, 1981 (his first career start) emerging from the third-base dugout.
Standing there next to the Orioles of a generation ago, it wasn't hard to wonder whether Ripken will one day return to honor a future Baltimore legend.
"I've only been here three years, but when you think about the Orioles and you think about Camden Yards and tradition, you think about Cal Ripken," said Jeff Conine, the team's MVP this season. "Now that he's not going to bea part of that anymore, it's going to be very odd."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide