Orioles 5, Blue Jays 0
Not so long ago, Septembers meant something more than playing out the final painful days of a long season. There were pennant races, rivalries and simply individual games that stirred a baseball-loving city and caused the baseball world to take notice. None more so than a game exactly 10 years ago when a city, and an entire country, came to life following the quest of one man to complete the same task as thousands of blue-collar workers around the country, which was simply to show up for their job every day. Perhaps that is why the streak meant so much to everyone. Who couldn't relate to that?
Cal Ripken Jr., taught by his father to respect the game of baseball by never asking out of the lineup, played in his 2,131st consecutive contest on Sept. 6, 1995, breaking Lou Gehrig's all-time mark. It is perhaps the defining and signature moment of this beautiful ballpark by Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Those glorious days are long past. A crowd of only 20,729 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Ripken's streak-breaking game. Perhaps it was more an indictment of the current team, which sits 161/2 games out of first place, than a slight on the man considered a legend in these parts. But parts of Camden that stirred loudly 10 years ago were instead empty and quiet.
The game, a 5-0 Orioles win against the Toronto Blue Jays, meant little on this night. This was Ripken's evening and the crowd cheered loudest when he took the field for the pregame celebration and the unfurling of the numbered banner on the adjacent warehouse wall during the fifth inning.
"Everywhere you go people share a story with you," Ripken told reporters during the game. "They relate to the consecutive games streak in one way or form. I'm pretty amazed how that's become a symbol. I didn't think it was as big a deal when I played."
During that unfurling in the fifth inning, a large blast of confetti littered the field and remained there for the rest of the game, a glistening reminder that this field used to sparkle all the time in better days.
Some fans had hoped Ripken would take a lap around the field like he had done 10 years ago. He had to be pushed by Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmeiro then. Now nobody, not even the vanquished Palmeiro, was here for that task. On that night, Ripken said he was awestruck by the lap he took around the field.
"It had a huge impact on me because I was sitting there not able to handle the continued applause and return the focus to the game," Ripken said. "At the left field foul pole I didn't care whether the game resumed or not. It was very spontaneous setting out to do that. There was no way somebody could have planned that."
Recently, Septembers have had little meaning. This September in particular starts the merciful end of a devastating year for a once-proud franchise that has been struck by two of its players being witnesses at a congressional hearing, by the steroid suspension of Rafael Palmeiro and the unceremonious release and DUI arrests of troubled pitcher Sidney Ponson.
"Those things happen," Ripken said. "Sports are an extension of what society is."
There is still the promise that one day those magical Septembers can return. Daniel Cabrera, perhaps the best pitching hope for Baltimore, was inspiring in his return from the disabled list on Tuesday, allowing no runs and just four hits in seven innings. Few balls were struck hard against Cabrera.
"That's the kind of game we look for Daniel to have all the time," interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He has so much talent. His stuff is so good you want someone like that to [be in] the rotation next year."
Prior to the game, Ripken said he was moved by how much he remembered from that record-breaking night 10 years ago after stepping onto the field. He revisited images of his family, and a crowd full of adoring people. In one of Camden's many skyboxes that night, Ripken's father, the now deceased Cal Sr., waved to him. He could see that wave once again.
"That makes the memory a little more intense," Ripken said.
Perhaps there is still something special left in this field.