- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

BALTIMORE Cal Ripken's ears were ringing last night, and not solely from the numerous ovations he received during what originally was supposed to be his final game at Camden Yards. The sound of 47,000 cheering baseball fans was nothing compared to the sound of 140,000 cheering auto racing fans and the whir of stock cars screaming past him.

By the time he took the field for last night's game against the New York Yankees, Ripken had already spent much of the day in Dover, Del., serving as honorary grand marshal of NASCAR's MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400.

"Someone was pointing out how busy I've been lately, but I see it as a very productive and a very good busy," he said. "Today was a little bit of a trying day."

It didn't seem to bother the Iron Man, who drove in three of the Orioles runs last night with a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer, his 14th of the season.

Ripken's marathon day began around 9:30 a.m., when he and his family boarded a helicopter in Baltimore and headed for Dover. At Dover Downs International Speedway, Ripken met with the drivers, took a ceremonial first lap in a convertible and basked in the ovation of a crowd of 140,000. He then served as the race's official starter, waving the green flag.

"It was my first experience with NASCAR, and sitting up there starting the race was a very powerful experience," he said. "The first time they came by, they were going 85 mph, and by the time they come back around, they're going 150. It's enough to make you go, 'Wow!' "

Ripken watched most of the race, which was renamed in his honor, from a private box. He had to leave around 2:15 p.m. to fly back to Baltimore in time for last night's game. The race was eventually won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose car No. 8 matches Ripken's uniform number.

The nightcap featured some festivities of its own. Last night's game was to be the Orioles' final home date of the season until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington postponed a week's worth of games to October. Still, the Orioles tried to appease some of the fans who spent top dollar for tickets to the game by adding a brief pregame ceremony in which Ripken and ex-Baltimore great Brooks Robinson met on-field.

Robinson, who rarely makes appearances at Camden Yards, and Ripken signed eight game-used bases that were auctioned off to fans. The proceeds will go toward the relief effort for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ripken opens his final road trip tonight in Boston, finishes up next weekend at Yankee Stadium and then returns home for seven games at Camden Yards.

"This whole last two and a half months have been a bit overwhelming," he said. "I've been afforded some pretty special opportunities, and today was certainly one of the coolest ever."

Extra basesBaltimore manager Mike Hargrove named his starting rotation for the four-game series against the Red Sox that commences tonight. Calvin Maduro pitches tonight, Jose Mercedes (who had been removed from the rotation two weeks ago after losing his 17th game of the season) will start tomorrow in place of the injured Josh Towers, Rick Bauer will pitch Wednesday and Sean Douglass will start Thursday.

Mercedes could make three more starts before the season is over, and losses in all three would make him the major leagues' first 20-game loser since Oakland's Brian Kingman in 1980… .

Hargrove said he does not expect injured first baseman David Segui (left knee) or shortstop Melvin Mora (right elbow) to return this season.

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