Wild Bill Hagy says he hasn't been to the ballpark all year. But this, this is different.
"This is probably the most amazing love-in you'll ever see in Mayor League Baseball," says Hagy, a fixture at Orioles games during the 1980s, a symbol of Oriole Magic. He was sitting in the field-level seats by the left-field foul pole in the trademark straw cowboy hat, the great gray brush of beard, the red face and ample belly. Someone handed him a beer. He took it.
Why not? Time to celebrate.
Hagy, who has been disenchanted with team management for years, says this was as good a night as any to make his first appearance of 1995. But where to get tickets?
"I tried 100 different ways to get in," says Hagy, who exiled himself from Memorial Stadium in a dispute with Orioles management over their beer-cooler ban. But this was different. He was desperate, he says, and called Orioles general manager Roland Hemond today to see if he could find him a seat.
He had to be here for Cal, whom he's been watching since Cal played in the minors. Hagy, 56, says he remembers Cal's first game in the big leagues.
"I think he saved baseball," says Hagy. "Cal exemplifies the work ethic. He's like my father and your father. He went off to work and packed his lunch.
"I can't get over how [Ripken] is hitting the ball and playing the field with all the pressure he's under, and the carnival atmosphere."
The carnival reached a crescendo in the middle of the fifth inning as the game became official and the ovation went on and on. After Cal made the rounds on the warning track, Hagy stood and led his signature cheer, spelling the words in body language: O-R-I-O-L-E-S.
As if not so much time had gone by. As if the streak were up to only 1,000 or so. "We were sitting around last night watching the game and we figure I saw at least 300," of the 2,131 games, Hagy said.
Any advice for Cal from one institution to another?
"Don't change. Just get out there and play every day."