BALTIMORE, JULY 11 -- It was the early hours of this morning when Cal Ripken Sr. and Cal Ripken Jr. were finally alone and, as poignant, telling moments go, this wasn't one of them.
The Baltimore Orioles had survived a 13-12 victory over the Minnesota Twins a couple of hours earlier, and Cal Sr. was tired. His bullpen had blown another lead, and worse, he'd had a clubhouse confrontation with ineffective reliever Tom Niedenfuer.
Cal Jr. had felt sick since midday and was barely able to stand up through a postgame interview. This, though, was a special day. This was the day the Orioles released veteran second baseman Rick Burleson and announced that Billy Ripken was being brought to the big leagues.
For the first time in major league history, one team would have a father managing two sons. One of the older Ripkens wondered when the younger might arrive from Rochester.
"I bet he drives down here right after the Rochester game," Cal Jr. said. "I'll bet he's in Pennsylvania right now."
Cal Jr. smiled and thought about it.
"You know what?" he asked. "If it were me, I'd be on the road now, too."
Billy wasn't. At that hour, he was "not sleeping a second" at his apartment in Rochester. By 8 a.m. today, though, he was on the road, and by 2:15, was in the Baltimore suburb of Phoenix, where he'll live for at least a few days.
The final leg of his journey to the big leagues would begin with his brother's home-cooked lunch of steak, baked potato and corn. They then drove to Memorial Stadium together, arriving by 3:10, where the manager waited to see the new player.
"I'm sure he gave me the same talk he gives every new player," Billy said. "He said that I might not play everyday. He said he can't tell anyone that. He said I might get in the game on nights when I didn't start, and that I should be ready. He really just said the standard stuff."
"Nothing like that came up," he said.
Did he even smile?
"I haven't seen him crack a smile since I got here. I don't see him glowing. I think he just wants to go out and win a game."
The Orioles formally ushered in the Ripken Era tonight against the Minnesota Twins when Cal Sr. wrote out a lineup card that had one son starting at shortstop and another at second base. Vi Ripken, the wife of the manager and mother of the infielders, sat in the stands, a few rows behind homeplate with her other two children, daughter Ellen and son Fred, and his only grandchild.
Tonight, in the hours before the game, the three Ripkens did about two dozen interviews and posed for two dozen pictures. The manager, concerned that the two boys wouldn't have time to prepare for the game, cut off press interviews two hours before the game.
As for Billy, the most talkative and outgoing of the three, he was in uniform by 4 p.m., and sporting a marine-style crewcut, spent his pre-game hours seemingly bouncing from one side of the clubhouse to another.
"I'm feeling good about this, no question," he said. "I feel I'm ready for a shot, and I'm real excited. Who wouldn't be?"
His road to the big leagues hasn't been an easy one. He was an 11th-round draft pick in 1982, but because of various injuries, played only 75 games his first two seasons.
He recovered enough to play 115 games at Class A Hagerstown in 1984, but suffered serious injuries to his hand and shoulder in 1985. In the process of being bounced from Charlotte to Daytona Beach to Hagerstown, he began to think, "I may not get to the big leagues.
"I never came close to quitting, but I started to think it was possible I might get to the big leagues."
Neither his dad nor the Orioles ever gave up. His dad spoke for the organization in 1986 when he said, "He just needs to go through one season without a serious injury. If he can do that, we may know."
That year was 1986 when he played 141 games and hit .268 for Class AA Charlotte. After attending spring training with the major league team for the first time, he was sent to Class AAA Rochester and was hitting .286 when he was called up.
Comparisons to Cal Jr., a five-time all-star, are inevitable, and Billy said he knows this.
"You can't compare us," Billy said. "That's idiotic. For me to think, I can follow and match what he has done is stupid. No way. I can do some things right, but don't compare us. He's going to hit the three-run homer to win the game. I'll bunt the runners to second and third, and that could get a couple of runs in. I can hit-and-run, and I can catch the ball. I can turn a double play when we need one."
As he speaks, former Oriole Ken Singleton, now a Baltimore television man, walks up and says, "Congratulations, Billy. There's a thousand hits still out there. I know because I left 'em there."
Eddie Murray walks past and says, "Nice haircut," gesturing toward the crew cut.
"This is the weave of the '80s," Billy snaps back.
Across the room, Cal Jr. was talking about playing with his brother.
"This is something I've thought about from time to time," he said. "But it has always seemed kind of far-fetched. When it really seemed possible was this spring when we played together and did well. I'd be fibbing if I didn't say I was pulling for him."
If the Brothers Ripken were excited, the Father Ripken was not.
"I know everyone is thinking of history," he said. "I'll think of history down the line, but right now, I'm thinking of trying to win a game."
Then almost by mistake, he came close to saying something very personal about his youngest son.
"He wants to come out and work," he said. "He's an Oriole, which means he goes about his business the right way. He did that at spring training, and I'm sure he did it at Rochester."
Their first game together was less than memorable. Minnesota's Frank Viola tossed a seven-hitter, and the Twins dropped the Orioles to 20 1/2 games with a 2-1 victory.
In his first major league game, Billy Ripken grounded out twice, walked and ran into his own bunt for an out. He handled seven defensive chances flawlessly, his first one coming against Randy Bush, the Twins second hitter of the game.
"I swung at some bad pitches," Billy said. "I was a little anxious, but the first ground ball kind of broke the ice. But, no, it wasn't just another game. I knew it wouldn't be this afternoon when I saw the sign that said it was 50 miles to Baltimore. I made those 50 miles in about 10 minutes."
After the game, the Orioles saved the lineup card, which will be sent to the Hall of Fame.