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  At Camden Yards, Ripken Toasted With Cheers

By William Gildea
Washington Post Columnist
September 6, 1995

BALTIMORE, SEPT. 5—When Cal Ripken took the field tonight for his 2,130th straight game, it would be a game like no other. It took 5 minutes 20 seconds between the top of the fifth inning and bottom of the fifth as Ripken's consecutive-games streak that tied Lou Gehrig's record was celebrated with an ovation all present would remember.

It was a night of ovations. Each time Ripken came to bat, the sellout crowd of 46,804 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards stood and applauded. The first time, Ripken raised his batting helmet and waved. Three times he emerged from the Baltimore dugout to acknowledge a roar of love after the number 2,130 was posted on the warehouse wall. It took an Iron Man not to cry.

When it seemed neither Ripken nor the fans could give more, Ripken hit a home run in the sixth inning — caught by a 32-year-old housebuilder from Sykesville, Md. named Mike Stirn. He turned down an offer of $2,500 for the ball from another fan, and also turned away Orioles officials' inquiries about obtaining the ball for Ripken, and left the park with a police escort. But he said he would give the ball to Ripken if Ripken asks for it.

It seemed like fiction. Ripken, in humble fashion, ran out his home run quickly. Again, the crowd succeeded in urging him to take another bow.

The ovations began at first sight of him. Writers, television reporters, cameramen awaited his pregame exercise in one gigantic clump that stretched from the dugout almost to the foul line. Shortly after five o'clock, the humanity parted and Ripken trotted out to wild cheers from fans looking into the still-closed park from behind the bleachers in right-center field. Ripken waved to them before bending to begin his stretching routine.

Shortly, a familiar sight. The gates opened and thousands rushed in — and Ripken took to signing autographs at the first row. He was surrounded. He reached toward outstretched arms. He signed until he could sign no longer.

The park filled. Ripken did a 50-yard warmup spint — it elicited a standing ovation.

Ripken's first Orioles manager, Earl Weaver, tossed the ceremonial first pitch, a high lob from in front of the pitcher's mound to Ripken, at home plate. Ripken signed the ball for Weaver, who brought his pen. They walked off to another standing ovation.

It was time to play — for Ripken, the 2,130th straight time. He hurried to shortstop. He was home. . . .

After the game a 30-minute post-game tribute had moments high and low. The most stirring part came when Hank Aaron, who surpassed Babe Ruth in home runs for a career, and an array of entertainers and athletes, was introduced. This, after all, was a baseball night, and Aaron's presence conjured images of the days when Ruth and Gehrig played. And, more. With Ripken joined in, Aaron received one of the great ovations for his own achievements.

"I didn't expect Hammerin' Hank to come out," Ripken said. "What he symbolizes for baseball is phenomenal. I was very touched that he came out to take part in the festivities."

There were lesser moments in the team's effort to honor Ripken. Indeed, Ripken has passed some days waiting for night games by watching soap operas. But the few moments of a video entitled "The Young and the Restless," a variation on the soap with the Ripken streak inserted, might have been left in the cutting room. Old Bird Flies Home

"Let me in. Let me in."

It was Weaver banging on a door underneath the stands.

The man who moved Ripken from third base to shortstop in 1982 was back from retirement in Florida to throw out tonight's ceremonial first pitch — if he could get in, that is.

The door opened.

"I'm Leo Gomez."

"Pleased to meetcha," rasped Weaver, looking for a familiar face.

He immediately found one — Harold Baines. Of course, Baines played for Chicago when Weaver managed Baltimore. "You killed us," Weaver told him.

A former pitcher of Weaver's, Scott McGregor, looked in. "Whadaya say, Scotty, how you doing?" Weaver said. He talked at length with his former player and coach, Elrod Hendricks, then headed for a news conference.

"Wrong way again, Skip," an usher said.

"No wonder we never won more than we won," Weaver responded.

A short man with a ruddy face, Weaver was dressed in a white short-sleeve shirt and tie, and brown slacks. He carried his tan sports coat. And he smoked cigarettes, one after the other.

"As usual, no prepared statement, gentlemen," he began, sitting behind a microphone before the massed media.

It only took one question to start him talking.

"Because the team needed him at shortstop. . . . No stroke of genius by any stretch of the imagination. . . . We worked him out early {junior year of high school}. I watched Cal {Sr.} hit him grounders. I hit him some. Right. Left. He reminded me of Marty Marion. I grew up in St. Louis. He looked to me like a natural-born shortstop. . . .

"I wanted the ball hit to this kid. . . . Instincts like Frank, Brooks, Belanger and Blair. . . . What was the question? I forgot the question. . . . His father played for me in 1960, the year Cal was born. Played for me in Appleton. Cal Sr. would catch a double-header and drive the bus 400 miles to the next town. You could call the father Nails' . . ."

Weaver's voice broke. His eyes looked misty. He walked away with short, quick steps.

Voices Richie Bancells, trainer."I met Cal in 1984 at Bluefield. His first day. My first day."They advanced through the farm system more or less together. If everyone was as injury-free as Ripken has been, Bancells would have been out of work. Two close calls for Cal — a sprained left ankle 444 games into the streak in 1985, and a twisted right knee when his spikes caught in the grass during the Orioles-Seattle brawl in 1993.

The trainer himself has missed just a few work days."The day Cal hit for the cycle I was in the hospital with appendicitis,"Bancells said."It was 1984. I watched on television."

Brady Anderson, outfielder and friend of Ripken."Hey, stay here and talk to me,"Anderson said Ripken told him the other day when they were taking the field and the consecutive-games number was about to be changed on the warehouse wall."Hey, don't leave me here alone."To which Anderson responded:"You got yourself into this. You do this on your own."

Jim Abbott, California pitcher."Cal is the players' role model. His effort, his dedication is something that inspires players. I know he's inspired me."

Ernie Tyler, field attendant."This is something that nobody's going to see again."Tyler has worked every Orioles home game since Opening Day 1960."Before Cal was born."One of Tyler's duties is to rub up baseballs in mud before the games. Tonight, as he will Wednesday, he rubbed up Ripken commemorative ones with the number eight to be used in the game.

Larry Barnett, umpire. As crew chief — the others being Al Clark, Greg Kosc and Dan Morrison — Barnett takes kidding."My crew asks me if Lou {Gehrig} complained about the same pitches Cal does."As chief, Barnett also can claim certain privileges."I did move my assignment with the approval of my crew,"he said. He'll get to call balls and strikes Wednesday. . . . Waiting for Ripken

At 2 p.m. under a blazing sun a crowd was gathered at the players' entrance. They were waiting for players in general but one in particular, especially on this day. They had come from all over. The Gauvins had driven down from Rochester, N.Y.

Andrew, 13, is lined up at a fence waiting. His father Victor was off buying film."He's going to miss two days of school,"Carolyn Gauvin said of Andrew,"but this is historical. In a young boy's life, it's far more important than the first two days of school. It's something he will remember."

They came with two tickets purchased long ago for tonight and Wednesday night. Victor, with a faint hope, went to a ticket window and, to his surprise, was able to purchase a third seat for tonight's game."They told him there'd be no chance at all for tomorrow night,"his wife said.

On Wednesday night, she said,"I might just go around on the other side, by Babe Ruth's statue, and just listen to the crowd, hear it when they change the number, and then go back to the motel. . . ."

Signs of the Time

"On the 8th day God created Cal and he hasn't missed a game since."

And:"Holy Cal."

© Copyright 1995 Washington Post Company

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