For Ripkens, There's Been Stress Behind The Streak

September 04, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Sun Columnist

Wednesday is a big day in the Ripken household, but not simply because Daddy is scheduled to break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

Wednesday also is a big day because it is the first day of school for Cal Ripken's daughter, Rachel.

Rachel, 5, is more excited about school than her father's historic achievement. Her mother, Kelly, has explained to her the significance of the numbers on the warehouse -- 2,129, 2,130, 2,131. But the truth is, Rachel is more interested in dancing between innings to "YMCA."

And Ripken's 2-year-old son, Ryan?

"He has no clue," Kelly said, laughing.

Leave it to the kids to keep Daddy humble, to cut the streak down to size.

"Exactly," Cal Ripken said.

He isn't just a shortstop, an Iron Man, a future Hall of Famer.

He's a son, a husband, a father.

Kelly bought him a card in spring training and wrote, "Enjoy the year. Let everyone tell you how great you are." Ripken took her advice, and stopped fighting the attention surrounding the streak.

"The kids had a lot to do with it," Kelly said. "The reality of life is, if you've got your health -- your kids are healthy, your wife is healthy -- it puts things quickly into perspective."

Kelly said the Ripkens learned that after the death of former Oriole Tim Hulett's son, Sam, who was 6 when he was struck by an automobile in July 1992.

And they've learned it keeping in touch with former Oriole Joe Orsulak's wife, Adrianna, 30, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and whose son, Michael, 3, suffers from a congenital heart disorder.

They've seen tragedy up close.

And they've endured trying times of their own.

Kelly said she visited 12 doctors and tried 25 medications over a three-year period before a psychiatrist finally diagnosed her Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder, in 1987.

She went through a difficult pregnancy with Ryan in 1993, at a time when Cal was enduring the worst criticism of his career before the All-Star Game at Camden Yards.

And now, with Cal approaching Gehrig, she waits anxiously for the day when security concerns are no longer part of the family's everyday life.

"We've had to beef up security, be a little more cautious," Kelly said. "That definitely has happened. I hope it goes away."

Cal received a death threat from a man identifying himself as Lou Gehrig Jr. in Seattle on Aug. 23. Orioles officials also acknowledged an earlier death threat against him in Boston.

"It didn't shake me up at the moment, but it made me think later on," Kelly said of the Seattle threat. "Not everyone is happy that he's doing this. You never know. You just never know.

"I'll be relieved for Cal [when it's over]. You're kind of a sitting duck, no matter how much security you have. When you're playing shortstop, there isn't anybody around you.

"I don't think about that all the time. But it does cross my mind."

Her husband's, too.

"It's hard to feel you might be at risk, that someone might want to kill you, or even threaten to kill you," Cal said. "There are all these questions you don't know.

"It affects the nerves. You try to do what you need to do. My way is not to deny it's there. You take the necessary precautions, be smart about it, but don't let it rule your life."

Then there are the children.

Cal said concern for their safety raises the precautions "to another level."

"It really worries me with the kids, especially when I'm out with the two of them, trying to keep an eye on both," Kelly said. "But in this day and age, who doesn't watch out for their kids?

"You can't take your eyes off them."

Kelly awakened at 5 a.m. Thursday -- Ryan calling. Later that morning, she was host to People magazine for a three-hour session with Cal and the kids. And by 3:30 p.m., she was in her private suite at Camden Yards for two photo shoots and interviews with "CBS This Morning," Sports Illustrated TV and The Sun.

It was her busiest day yet with the media, and as game time approached, Kelly was munching on popcorn and pretzels, trying to maintain her energy. Her Graves' disease makes it difficult. She takes thyroid medication every day. She is supposed to eat well, sleep well and work out at moderate levels.

"This summer, it hasn't been possible," she said. "There are a few times where I didn't feel so swift."

Graves' disease afflicts George and Barbara Bush and about a million other Americans. Kelly fell ill in 1984, not long after she met Cal.

Only at first, no one knew what was wrong.

"I felt like I had the flu every second of the day," Kelly said. "I had terrible headaches. I had to get into the shower, let the water run on the back of my neck. I couldn't see straight.

"I was very nauseous. I lost 25 pounds. I was so exhausted, but my metabolism was running so high, my body wouldn't rest. It was not pretty."

Kelly said she was misdiagnosed for three years, with doctors saying her problem was "everything from a sinus condition to a cervical injury in my neck to Hodgkin's to leukemia to it was all in my head."

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