- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

BALTIMORE. Today is Opening Day No. 20 for Cal Ripken. There will not likely be an Opening Day No. 21.
Not that Ripken is saying this is his last Opening Day. He has not come out and said that this will be his last season. But there is a film crew following him around this year, and it's not to record his next-to-last season.
"It's not unreasonable to think that this might be my last Opening Day," Ripken said while dressing yesterday in the Orioles clubhouse for the final workout before the season starts today at Camden Yards against the Boston Red Sox. "But I don't think about it.
"I don't like to think in hypotheticals," he said. "Let's say you made the assumption that this would be the last day you live. It could affect everything you do, maybe not in the most positive way or maybe in a positive way, I don't know. I prefer not to think that way. I would rather deal with something and then look back on it rather than ask myself 'What if?' all the time."
If Ripken were to think about this being the last time he is introduced as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, he might look back on Opening Days past, and it could really hit home how long it has been since April 5, 1982, the first time he took the field for the Orioles on Opening Day.
Generations have come and gone. Hal McRae was in the lineup for the Kansas City Royals on Ripken's first Opening Day. Not only is he no longer playing, his son Brian has since started and ended his own major league career.
George Brett is in the Hall of Fame. Willie Mays Aikens is in prison.
Dan Quisenberry is dead.
Ripken's teammates that day certainly date him Al Bumbry, Dan Ford, Eddie Murray, Ken Singleton, Gary Roenicke, John Lowenstein, Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey. Today he will take the field with names like Brook Fordyce, Melvin Mora and Chris Richard. It's a long way from 1982.
There weren't teams in Tampa, South Florida, Denver and Phoenix. There have been 15 new ballparks built since then, including Camden Yards.
How long ago was it? Carl Everett was missing the bus to nursery school when Ripken played in his first Opening Day.
Ripken remembers his first Opening Day very well, and he should. He was living his dream, the dream of all kids who love baseball, to play for his hometown team. And for him, that dream was only accentuated by the fact he was being introduced on Opening Day as part of the team that he literally grew up with, watching his father, Cal Sr., be such an important part of the organization.
He also went 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored in a 13-5 Orioles win over the Royals.
"Your first Opening Day will always be the best because of the excitement generated by coming to the big leagues," Ripken said. "All the other ones are tied for second."
Some of the names that Ripken played with and against in some of those other Opening Days only illustrate further the distance from the beginning to what is likely the end. His teammates have included Dennis Martinez, Tippy Martinez, John Shelby, Wayne Gross, Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Mike Young, Larry Sheets, Fred Lynn, Alan Wiggins, Lee Lacy, Juan Bonilla, Mike Flanagan, Don Aase, Terry Kennedy, Ken Gerhart, Jim Dwyer, Jeff Stone, Craig Worthington, Jim Traber, Randy Milligan, Joe Orsulak, Mickey Tettleton, Phil Bradley, Steve Finley, Sam Horn, Dwight Evans, Glenn Davis… .
Not many players can say they survived Opening Day lineups with Sam Horn, Jeff Stone and Glenn Davis in them.
His Opening Day opponents over the years also illustrate the distance between then that first time Ripken was introduced as an Oriole at Memorial Stadium (now turning into rubble) and today at Camden Yards players like Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk, Ron Kittle, Toby Harrah, Charlie Hough, Cliff Johnson, Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton, Lance Parrish, Rob Deer, Jim Gantner, Jim Rice, Marty Barrett, Bo Jackson… .
These are some of Cal Ripken's peers. They have long ago played in their last Opening Days.
Ripken knows that today is likely the last time he will be surrounded by teammates for baseball's greatest day of hope, the day when each and every one of those teams he took the field with on Opening Day probably believed they were going to be good even the ones with Jeff Stone, Glenn Davis and Sam Horn in them. He will savor the moment because he says he has learned as his career has wound down to savor all of these kind of baseball moments because one day the collection of those moments will end.
"I think there is a natural tendency to savor something, like in my case my baseball career, because you know there is a finite time in which you can play," Ripken said. "You can't play forever. As you get longer in your career, you realize that you don't have a whole lot of time left. You don't know what that time is. You understand you are in the twilight, and you look around and appreciate things in a different way.
"It's like if you have been playing the game for a long time, and you win the World Series," he said. "In my first two years, you really don't understand the significance of it or how hard that is until you have been playing for a long time and seen the other side. If I were to win a World Series now, I'd savor it a whole lot more."
That's not likely to happen. Opening Day will have to do.


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