For the Birds #8
Today, Cal Ripken was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I went to the game and watched the Orioles lose 10-6 to the Yankees and stayed after to watch Ripken's speech at the stadium. A number of Yankee fans stayed to hear Cal as well.
I wanted to be at the Yard today because of the way it felt during those three days in September in 1995 when he broke the record. I needed to relive that experience in person today against the Yankees. There was a moment Saturday night when I looked out the window at my car and I thought about getting in it and driving to Cooperstown. Baseball is sacred to me.
He embodied the Oriole Way and followed in the footsteps of the Robinsons, Palmer, Weaver and Murray. His father taught him how to play the game from the inside out, all aspects of it. Cal was a perfectionist, always adjusting his swing, willing to do anything to help his team win. He had great balance and footwork, the results of playing soccer and basketball.
Mostly, he is like us. He wanted to do the best he could at all times and make the most of himself. He is a regular guy who likes to mow the grass. "The secret of life is life," he said in his speech, referring to his children. He gave us 2632 consecutive games of excellence, his way. He played for twenty-one years and revolutionized the position of shortstop. The game desperately needed him in 1995, after a bitter, year-long work stoppage, and it needs him now to help us forget that these years will carry an asterisk forever.
He wasn't just showing up to play and let's forget the 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. If you love the game of baseball, there were at least five things he did that went unnoticed in the box score every day. Maybe he took the collar but he hit behind a runner or sacrificed him over and that helped win a game. Maybe he broke up a double play to keep an inning alive or he stopped a ball from rolling into left field to save a run. He set the defense at short--the most difficult position to field and with the most decisions to make on any given play. I remember him throwing runners out from his knees at third.
I didn't miss a day of work for five years while living in New York because I wanted to keep the streak alive in my own way. I signed on to my computer at work with "ripken" as my password. It was the mid-nineties and I could listen to Oriole games on the internet. I made it up to Yankee Stadium many times to see the Orioles play and to watch my favorite player. I looked forward to the start of every baseball season because of Cal and the Orioles. On the day after he broke the streak, he was down by the harbor after the parade. He turned in my direction and I shook his hand. "Thank you," I said.