- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

BALTIMORE Cal Ripken's 3,000-plus hits, 2,632 consecutive games and countless baseball achievements hardly mattered to the packed house at Camden Yards last night. They were there as much to celebrate Ripken's accomplishments outside the lines as within them. And although most spectators were wistful about his retirement, they took solace from the fact that Ripken was going out the way he wanted to.
Fans from around the country baseball fans, not just Baltimore Orioles fans came to see Ripken's farewell to the game. He had cultivated their appreciation for professionalism, workmanship and dedication, and they had come to pay tribute to the legend.
"It doesn't matter that I'm not an Orioles fan. I'm a Cal Ripken fan, said Boston Red Sox partisan Mark Beachey.
Elizabeth Bruen brought a sign that read, "Thanks for teaching me to love the game!" A season-ticket holder since 1983, Bruen said she stuck with the Orioles during some lean years solely because of Ripken.
"I would have left some games, but he was there," said Bruen, who added she only wanted to see Ripken make one more great play in the field. "You watch a master play the game, and it rubs off."
The Red Sox, who have weathered another tumultuous season including the firing of manager Jimy Williams, Carl Everett's antics and unhappy star players, had a chance to take part in a historic game. For young players like James Lofton, it was memorable.
"I can say I was there for Cal Ripken's last game, and that's special," said Lofton, a 27-year-old outfielder. "We're going to need some [player] to step up like he did."
Calvin Pickering, who was in the Orioles lineup Sept. 20, 1998, the night Ripken halted his consecutive games streak, said he used to watch players like Ripken on TV while growing up in the Virgin Islands, and he conceded he was a little in awe of the Iron Man while in Baltimore.
"It was just great to be his teammate," Pickering said. "I'm just happy to be here for his last game and watch everything that goes on. It worked out good. I'm still here even though I'm on another team, and I still have the opportunity to be on the same field with him."
The rescheduling of games because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks meant fans who had tickets for the contest's original date, Sept. 16, found themselves holding seats for a memorable evening. Drew Krehbiel, who bought his tickets for the mid-September series, flew in from Houston for this weekend's series.
"I'm happy to see he's retiring the way he is [on his own terms]," Krehbiel said.
Still, there were those who paid a hefty price for tickets. Rick Claunch, his brother Ed and Tim Carroll flew in yesterday from Cocoa Beach, Fla., after purchasing tickets on EBay for $250 apiece. The trio arrived at the Camden Yards gates at 10:30 a.m. and were among the first fans into the stadium at 4 p.m.
Harold Jimenez made the eight-hour drive from Fort Gordon, Ga., after buying tickets on EBay at 1 a.m. yesterday.
"I'm a Yankee fan, but a diehard baseball fan. I love the game, and Cal's a big part of the game," said Jimenez, who paid $140 for his ticket. Scalpers were hawking tickets in the vicinity of $350 for first-level seats.
Regardless of how they got their tickets, once inside, fans had a common objective: to pay tribute to and celebrate the career of Cal Ripken.
"He's doing the right thing," said Steve Sharkey of Baltimore. "You can't go out any cleaner, more perfect than Cal Ripken."
Sharkey said he expects Ripken to follow former Baltimore pro athletes like Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson and maintain a presence in the area. In that case, Sharkey said, last night wasn't really a goodbye to Ripken.
"It's just a 'see you later,'" he said. "He'll be around.

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