Aberdeen's Boy

September 07, 1995

He is as steady as a white, marble stoop.

As feisty as a Chesapeake blue crab.

As enduring as Fort McHenry.

As graceful as a skipjack at sail.

Cal Ripken Jr. doesn't just play for a team in Baltimore, he is Baltimore.

That is why this region so embraced him as he set the major league baseball standard for consecutive games played. The hubbub of "Streak Week," the sustained cheering and moist eyes that have marked the midpoint of every game at Oriole Park this past week, are about more than a diversion played with hickory sticks and leather mitts. It's about a place celebrating itself as it celebrates a native-son hero. The Orioles shortstop values the things Baltimoreans like to think they cherish, too: durability, dependability, family ties.

Partly by design, partly by fate, it often seems to work out that sports stars embody the cities where they play. "Broadway Joe" and "the Mick" were made to shine on the Great White Way, even if they grew up in the heartland. "Magic" Johnson's "showtime" brand of basketball was tailored for L.A., even if he hailed from Michigan.

So too, Cal Ripken's style fits as snugly as a batting glove in the Baltimore region where he was born and raised and where his family roots stretch back to colonial times. His parents still live in the modest house where he was raised in Aberdeen, whose denizens gathered around a giant TV screen at the local stadium to watch last night's game. That was the school where scouts traveled to see Mr. Ripken play as a teen and where his parents first courted.

The Baltimore region is still largely a place of small communities that revolve around PTAs and little leagues and deli counters. It traditionally likes its politicians eccentric, to employ old newsprint as tablecloths for crab dinners and for its athletic gladiators to be strong, silent types whose game faces wouldn't be complete without a smear of black polish under their eyes to ward off glare, men like Johnny U. and Brooks and Cal. Is it mere coincidence that Baltimore has been blessed with a legacy of sports giants who seem a perfect fit for this place, who epitomize the traits we believe sports are supposed to nourish, the ones we wish to believe we possess ourselves?

Records, the world was so dramatically reminded in Baltimore this week, are made to be broken. It is character that endures. Cal Ripken gave everyone a vivid picture of that this week.

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