On behalf of workingman, Clinton says thanks Praises Oriole's dedication to a job he loves 2,131: RIPKEN PASSES GEHRIG

September 07, 1995|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

President Clinton caught the fever at Camden Yards last night -- and expressed the hope that the rest of America would, too.

Exercising his prerogative as First Fan, Mr. Clinton brought his daughter, Chelsea -- and most of his top advisers -- to Baltimore last night, chatted warmly with Cal Ripken in the clubhouse before the game and then trucked up to owner Peter Angelos' box to watch a little history being made.

In an interview in that crowded box with The Sun, Clinton expressed the view that Lou Gehrig would love what he saw on the field when Ripken ran out to shortstop last night, said he believed that Ripken's streak would bring back the fans disillusioned with organized baseball and, finally, said he thought that Ripken has helped rekindle the nation's latent love of the work ethic.

"I got home late last night and watched a story on the local news about a Virginia bus driver who hasn't missed a day of work in 18 years," the president said. "These are the kinds of people who make America great."

The president said Ripken told him, "All I did was show up every day and do something I enjoy." But the president said that this was just the point: Ripken had combined talent and joy of what he was doing with "dedication, devotion and consistency," virtues he said are not often celebrated but which Americans still hold dear.

"I like people who enjoy what they do," he said.

The president, his daughter and many of his top advisers clearly liked Ripken.

Accompanying the Clintons were Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper, and their son Albert III, White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and several other top White House aides.

Lake told reporters who walked with him: "The first one who mentions Bosnia is dead."

Later, after the presidential party arrived in the Orioles' clubhouse to meet Ripken, the president introduced Lake, a big baseball fan, to the Orioles shortstop by saying, "With him, every foreign policy crisis takes a back seat to baseball." While Ripken smiled appreciatively, Lake quipped back, "That's why there are so many crises."

The entire atmosphere in the Orioles' clubhouse was festive. The Clintons, Gores and their aides appeared awed by Ripken. The Orioles' players, in turn, lined up three deep to meet the president.

Ripken presented Clinton with three Orioles jackets, then signed a bat for the president and another for the vice president.

"Thank you for being here on my special day," Ripken wrote on Clinton's bat.

Ripken paid special attention the the kids. To Albert III, a shy boy who was seriously injured in a car accident after the Orioles' season opener at Memorial Stadium in April 1989, he said gently, "Who's that back there?"

Chelsea, who appreciates Ripken especially because he drives his daughter to school -- as Clinton used to do when she was little and he was governor of Arkansas -- was more outgoing.

"You can come down any time," Ripken told her.

Lake and other people in the entourage asked Ripken to sign baseballs, which he did willingly. Pitcher Ben McDonald, his cap on backward, filmed the proceedings on a video camera. Tipper Gore, a noted amateur photographer, brought her camera out and began shooting around the room. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro brought his 5-year-old son up to the president, took a cap off the boy's head and asked the president to autograph it.

Clinton started to comply, but the boy suddenly refused, saying, "No, that's mom's hat!" The surprised Palmeiro looked mildly embarrassed, but Clinton thought it was funny and laughed good-naturedly.

On a more serious note, Ripken sighed deeply at one point and told the president, "This is the closest thing to an out-of-body experience I'll ever have. It's like somebody else is in your shoes."

Clinton responded by telling Ripken about the Virginia bus driver and then, his arm around daughter Chelsea, said: "God bless you!"

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