Reality sets in for Ripkens ORIOLES OPENING DAY '93

April 06, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

For openers, it undoubtedly was best for Cal and Bill Ripken to get their first confrontation out of the way as soon as possible.

They had had a taste of competition in spring training, but this was the real thing. Yesterday's opener between the Orioles and Texas Rangers made the separation final.

"This is the real season," said Cal, the Orioles' All-Star shortstop. "It was like the last nail in the coffin -- I don't know what the right phrase is -- it makes it final in your mind that he [Bill] isn't here anymore."

The breakup of the Ripken family and the Orioles came swiftly last winter. First, Cal Sr., the team's longtime third-base coach, was not invited back. Then Bill, who had been Cal Jr.'s double-play partner for 5 1/2 years, was released the same day the Orioles signed free-agent second baseman Harold Reynolds.

However, it wasn't until yesterday that the divorce became official. Bill and Cal Jr. were on opposite sides in a real game for the first time. And even though they were prepared, both said it was a strange feeling.

"When there's a bullet [line drive] hit to second base, you don't expect it to be your brother making the play," said Cal Jr. "That made it [the separation] real -- it made it final in my mind."

For years, Bill has played in the shadow of his older brother -- without ever expecting it to be any different. "When you have a brother who plays at his level of ability, no matter what you do, you're always going to be in his shadow," said Bill. "Besides, he's bigger, he's got a big shadow.

"It's human nature, people are going to say things like, 'You're not as good as your brother,' as if I didn't know that," said Bill.

But, for several rewarding seconds yesterday, Bill got top billing. During the pre-game introductions he got a longer, louder ovation than his more famous brother. It did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by either.

"It was nice -- real nice," said Bill. "It made me feel good, made bTC me feel like the people liked the way I played here.

"I didn't know what to expect. I always felt the people genuinely liked me here -- I just didn't know how much. I was surprised it [the applause] was that loud and that long. They really sustained it and I appreciated it very much."

In the other dugout, his brother's reception pleased Cal, who is used to standing ovations. "I think it was an indication of their appreciation for the kind of player Bill is," Cal said. "He's the kind of player who's going to give you everything he's got all the time. It made me feel good, and I'm sure it made him feel good."

After the two teams had been introduced, Cal was seen communicating between the foul lines with his younger brother. That message remained undivulged.

"That was brother stuff," said Bill. "You're not getting that on tape."

To no one's surprise, Cal Sr. and his wife, Vi, did not attend Opening Day. "I think it would have been rough on Senior, coming to the park," said Bill. "And it would have been rough on Mom, too."

Whom did he think they were rooting for?

"I'm sure it was the Rangers," quipped Bill. "I think both my parents might have been wearing hats with T's on them in the living room at home [in Aberdeen, where the parents watched the game on television]."

For Cal Jr., yesterday was a day for reality. "The shock was the first day in spring training, when he [Bill] wasn't there," he said. "But time, I guess, has a way of dealing with that. It was strange not having him in spring training beside me getting ready. It was stranger the first exhibition game, and it was even stranger today.

"I've never played against him before, so I've got to evaluate him [defensively] just like any other player. That's what I was thinking [when Bill was at bat]. It wasn't like I was out there saying, 'Come on, Bill, get a hit.' "

Once the pre-game ceremonies were over and the game began, both Ripkens said they had little time to think of the other.

"I'm sure there's going to be times when I'm going to look over there and expect to see him," said Bill. "But right now, I've got other things to do.

Texas shortstop Manny Lee is on the disabled with a pulled muscle in his rib cage, and his replacement, rookie Benji Gil, "has gotten a crash course in the last week or so," Bill said. "So I've got to concentrate on getting used to him, and him getting used to me."

And what were his thoughts when Cal came to the plate? "I didn't want him to drive in those runs [in the first and fifth innings]," said Bill.

The two brothers talked by phone the night before the opener, but didn't have a chance to visit. Bill was asked if they had gone to the park together.

"Stop it," Bill half-shouted. "We live in different directions."

For the day, Cal was 1-for-4 with two runs batted in, and Bill was 0-for-4. But there was no denying who enjoyed the game most.

"My goal when I went to spring training was to win a spot on the team [he was signed to a minor-league contract], make it back here and win on Opening Day," said Bill.

In that regard, he had a perfect afternoon.

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