SEATTLE The question, while a bit on the schmaltzy side, was still appropriate given the magnitude of what had just occurred.
“Can you tell us any reason why you seem to have such storybook things happen to you?” Cal Ripken was asked.
For one of the rare instances in his career, baseball’s Iron Man actually looked stumped.”Gosh, I wish I could explain that,” he said shortly after finding out he had won Tuesday night’s Most Valuable Player Award after hitting a home run in his final All-Star Game appearance. “When you have the chance, just one opportunity in front of a big baseball crowd, and feel the moment, the electricity, the magic that’s everything.”
It was the best Ripken could do to try to put into words something he and probably only he can truly grasp. No one else in recent baseball history can claim to be on the same wavelength when it comes to seizing the moment, because no one else has done anything like it.
Ripken’s third-inning home run off Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Chan Ho Park, which sparked the American League’s 4-1 victory over the National League at Safeco Field, defied conventional wisdom. Here was a man one month shy of his 41st birthday stepping to the plate to a standing ovation from 47,364 fans, stepping back for a brief moment to offer a quick wave, then clobbering the first pitch 400 feet to left field for a home run.
This is the same man who turned the monumental event of tying and passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak in 1995 into a fairy tale of its own, homering in both games.”It doesn’t get any better than that as a human being,” Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said. “He announced his retirement and came and put up a shot like that. That’s amazing. He is the man.”“It was almost too good to be true,” said Anaheim Angels third baseman Troy Glaus, who ceremoniously replaced Ripken in the field at the top of the sixth inning.
National League manager Bobby Valentine called it “one of the most amazing feats I’ve ever seen.”And to think there were plenty of people out there who didn’t think Ripken, with a .240 batting average and four home runs this season, deserved to be a starter in his final All-Star Game.All he did was steal the show in a manner no pre-planned, choreographed major league baseball production could have accomplished.
The night included other moments as well, from Alex Rodriguez switching positions in the first inning to give Ripken one last chance to play shortstop, to the sixth-inning ceremony in which Ripken and fellow retiring star Tony Gwynn were given the commissioner’s Historical Achievement Award.
The sight of both All-Star teams emerging from the dugout and surrounding the two honorees provided a poignant moment.
“Yeah, I got goose bumps,” AL manager Joe Torre said. “It’s tough to be that close to a Cal Ripken or a Tony Gwynn and not feel what they represent. It’s corny, but it still works, as far as I’m concerned. We talk so much about how much money people make and going from team to team. I think we lose the sentimentality.”
But the signature moment of the night, and possibly the signature All-Star Game moment for years to come, was the one thing no one could have planned in advance: A home run that made Ripken the oldest player in All-Star history to hit a ball out of the park and the first American League player to win two game MVP awards.
“I actually felt like I was fast for the first time in my career, running around the bases,” he said. “Maybe I could have run a three-minute mile at that point.”
The hoopla of the All-Star Game now behind him, Ripken embarks on the final 75 games of his career. He will most certainly receive another standing ovation tonight when his Baltimore Orioles open a three-game series at Atlanta. He’ll be honored again this week when Baltimore moves on to play the Florida Marlins.
All of it, of course, will lead up to his final game as a professional baseball player, presumably Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium in New York an event that figures to provide another memorable moment in Cal Ripken’s storied career.
And if history holds form, the Iron Man will rise to the occasion.
“The only thing that’s left for Cal to do is homer in his last at-bat at the end of the season,” Oakland Athletics first baseman Jason Giambi said. “And he’s the guy who can pull it off. I’ve got good odds, 2-1.”