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A pair of 'Great Eights' partner for a great cause

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 8:27 PM

"Did you choose the number 8?" Cal Ripken asked Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday night.

"Um, yeah," Ovechkin replied.

"I didn't," Ripken said. "It was just given to me. Thought it worked pretty well, though."

Um, yeah. For two decades, Ripken was the No. 8 in Washington sports. And with all due respect to Ike Austin, Mark Brunell and Rex Grossman, no No. 8 since Ripken has come close to matching Ovechkin's popularity. So the kind of people paid to think of smart ideas thought of this smart idea: a charity venture pairing the region's two Great Eights.

Thus, Ripken presented Ovechkin with the inaugural "Advocate for Youth Award" Wednesday night during a fundraising event at the Park Hyatt Washington. This meant about 180 guests, each paying $800 a ticket, plus a live auction, with proceeds going to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's youth programs, the Friends of Fort DuPont Ice Rink and the Dynamo youth hockey and basketball programs in Moscow.

And this also meant a series of pre-event interviews, in which you could ask things like what would happen if the Iron Man collided with the Russian Machine.

"Now?" Ripken pondered. "The Iron Man would fall over. I'd say I used to be the Iron Man. Now I'm something else. Don't know what yet."

Ovechkin once famously touted his stamina by bragging "Russian machine never breaks," which seems to be in the same spirit as 2,632 straight games, no?

"Well, I was [broken] last year," Ovechkin joked. "I was in the car office, fix my body."

While the men share a love of basketball, they aren't excessively conversant in each other's sports. Ovechkin took batting practice before a Nats game once; "It's pretty hard," he said on Wednesday. "I never knew I could hit ball and make some home runs."

And Ripken sometimes messes around with floor hockey equipment, confessing that he can't skate but that he has a pretty effective wrist shot. But as a sports fan in the area, he has of course seen Ovechkin play hockey, both in person and on television.

"You sit there and are amazed at the speed, the power, the skill," he said. "In baseball you either had power or you had speed, and then all of a sudden the athletes started actually combining all of them together. And if you had a certain finesse to your game, that was another category all together. And [Ovechkin] seems to have all of them."

And Ovechkin? Well, he's slightly less familiar with Ripken's on-field exploits.

"I was little kid," Ovechkin explained. "His last year here [was] in 2001. I was 16 years old."

"You can find me on Classic Sports Network right now," Ripken offered. "We can go rent the tape."

"YouTube," Ovechkin suggested.

See, there's a bit of a cultural gap between the two. Ovechkin wore a pinstripe suit and a stylish blue-accented shirt, unbuttoned at the neck. Ripken could have been a banker in his suit and tie, joking that Ovechkin probably has more in common with his high school-age son.

But there are similarities. Both men had parents with successful athletic careers of their own. Both frequently divert credit to those parents. Ripken famously spent his entire career in Baltimore, and Ovechkin is in position to do the same further down I-95. Both talk about using their fortunes in positive ways.

"I didn't really believe that I should be a role model per se," Ripken said, "but there was an opportunity to actually use that power for good stuff."

"I have the chance to help the kids," Ovechkin echoed. "I'm lucky person to be right now here, I'm lucky person to have this kind of luck."

And then there's that 8 thing, which perhaps could prompt some side-by-side comparisons.

"After a while, you kind of fade off into the sunset," Ripken said. So I had my day. It's this 8's time in the sun."

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