Ripken in galaxy of own amid stars ALL-STAR GAME 1994

July 12, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Ken Griffey drilled five pitches into the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium and hit seven home runs in the home run hitting contest. Frank Thomas hit the longest ball of the day, a bomb off the concrete upper-deck facade in left-center, measuring 519 feet, or 9 feet longer than his other mammoth creation.

Those are the moments most among the sellout crowd will relive when they think back to yesterday's workout day for the 65th All-Star Game. This is as it should be. Griffey and Thomas have seized the 1994 baseball season as their own.

Yet, when Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ricky Bones recalls his first day as a participant in All-Star Game festivities, neither Griffey nor Thomas will come to mind.

Instead, he will think back to his morning car ride from the hotel to the ballpark. His ride with a grizzled veteran who doesn't care how long he hits them so long as he hits them.

The volunteer driver was in the front seat and Bones shared the back seat with one of baseball's living legends, a player who has participated in 10 more All-Star Games than Thomas.

Riding to the ballpark with Cal Ripken.

Honest, Ma.

"I walked through the lobby with him and everyone was jumping up and down yelling his name," Bones said. "It made me feel I was just a friend of his he invited to the game. Of course, I didn't expect any attention."

To hear Bones tell it, he felt as much like one of Ripken's fans as a fellow All-Star. Bones planned to have all of his American League teammates sign his All-Star jersey.

"That will be something I can take home with me and show people," Bones said. "The memories that mean the most are the ones you keep inside your heart. Nobody can take those away from you. Being able to spend some time with Cal Ripken is something I'll never forget. That was an exciting moment for me. Maybe nobody will believe me, but I know it happened."

Ripken's fame has reached the point even his peers fear they will be accused of name-dropping by bringing up a simple car ride.

"We talked about when he played [winter ball] in Puerto Rico," said Bones, a Puerto Rican. "He won the batting title one year and he's still a big name down there."

Everywhere. A big name growing bigger with each game as he closes in on Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak.

fTC Meanwhile, Ripken remains far more wrapped up in the game itself than his place in it. To him, the game is still a game.

"Yes, the entertainment value is greater. Yes, the salaries have escalated. Yes, financial security can be gained," Ripken said. "But that's the business side. When you get out on the field, all that doesn't matter. When you get out on the field, all that matters is baseball."

Ripken, 33, has been playing that as well as at any time in his life. Making his 12th All-Star appearance and 11th consecutive start, Ripken is batting .306 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs, five more RBIs than his previous best at the break.

"I feel my skill level is pretty good," Ripken said. "My hand-eye coordination is good. I'm probably not as resilient as I used to be, but whatever you lose in physical skills you gain from experience."

He has played in 1,983 consecutive games, putting him on a pace to break Gehrig's mark by late June 1995, barring serious injury or a work stoppage.

If he is injured before that, will he prolong the streak with pinch-hitting appearances?

"I'd like to think if I couldn't play, if I couldn't contribute like I do on an everyday basis, I'd like to think I'm big enough not to do that," Ripken said. "But I've never been faced with that situation. I've had a knee injury and an ankle injury where I didn't know if I was going to play right up until game time. I had to ask myself those questions. Can I go out there and play? Can I contribute to the team? Will I be helping the team by going out there? Every time the answer has been yes."

Jeff Conine of the Florida Marlins ranks second to Ripken in the Gehrig chase. He has played in 250 consecutive games.

"It's like a speck of sand on the beach after what he's done," Conine said. "If I finish out this year playing every game, that's two years. I can't even imagine what another 10 would be like, especially at his position. It's the most active position on the field along with the battery."

Will Ripken continue to play every day if he surpasses Gehrig? He doesn't look beyond his next game, but Orioles and AL All-Star teammate Mike Mussina does.

"He's going to play until he stops breathing," Mussina said. "We're going to wheel him out there in a wheelchair, he'll move himself into position, be right there when the ball comes, and throw him out at first."

AL STARTING LINEUP

.......... ......... Avg. ... HR ... RBI

Roberto Alomar .. 2B .. .313 .... 7 .... 35

Wade Boggs ...... 3B .. .331 .... 9 .... 41

Ken Griffey ..... CF .. .329 ... 33 .... 69

Frank Thomas .... 1B .. .383 ... 32 .... 78

Joe Carter ...... LF .. .270 ... 19 .... 80

Kirby Puckett ... RF .. .321 ... 14 .... 81

Cal Ripken ...... SS .. .306 ... 12 .... 65

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