As noted in yesterday’s blog, those of us in Washington, DC didn’t have our own MLB team for over 30 years. But, many of us became fans of the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s played the game the right way, or as they called it – “the Orioles way.” I had lots of Orioles players I liked but my two all-time favorites are Cal Ripken, Jr and Eddie Murray. I will focus this piece on Cal since he made such a huge impact on the game of baseball.
My first memories of Cal are of a tall, skinny shortstop who’s father was one of the O’s coaches and looked like a honored Marine veteran. He often threw the ball sidearm from shortstop. And, the line drives screamed off his bat. And, the most vivid memory was of Cal catching the line drive that clinched the O’s beating the Phillies in the ’83 World Series. Those were the glory years.
Of course, Cal went on to break one of the all-time greatest records in sports history – the consecutive games streak that had previously been held by the legendary “Iron Horse,” Lou Gehrig.
What stands out to me is that Cal always seemed to play the game the right way. He respected the game. He was not all flash and dash — like some NFL players who do crazy celebrations after making a mere first down in a meaningless game. When I think of current players, I think of guys like Derek Jeter and Jason Werth — who play the game with tradition and honor.
My all-time favorite memory of Cal took place in Sept ’95. At that time, AOL Sports was in its first year. Internet sports sites were new and we were looking for innovative ways to bring sports programming to the internet. One of the new things we did that summer was lug our laptop in the broadcasters booth — interact with AOL members via live chat rooms — run Instant Polling so fans can vote on plays — and relay questions from fans to the broadcasters, who would answer them directly on-air. Mel Proctor was the play-by-play announcer and he did a great job. Jody Shapiro and Bill Brown were running the network, Home Team Sports, and they welcomed us with open arms.
They allowed us to be in the broadcasters booth the night that Cal Ripken broke the consecutive games streak. I remember it was already an electric night since a historic record was going to be broken. But, President Clinton also happened to be there, which added to the electricity. I remember typing away as fast I could as my colleagues, Randy Dean and Anne Levy, and I type the ongoing action on the field as well as fielded questions from fans.
Once the game was official in the 5th inning, the special, unscripted celebration started – where Cal spontaneously jogged around the entire field – shaking and slapping hands with fans. I stopped typing and went to the broadcast booth to watch the celebration. Tears were streaming down my face — I had goose bumps. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Many people probably don’t recall or realize the baseball was broken – they had gone on an ugly strike the year before. But, the one player who stood out — who shook hands with fans and signed autographs for hours was Cal Ripken, Jr. He helped start the healing process. And, I’m sure the outpouring of affection from fans that special night in Sept ’95 was because he so instrumental to helping resurrect the popularity of the national pastime.
Thank you, Cal Ripken, for being such an important player — and person. You respected the game. And, you are one of our national heroes.