Getting back to normal may take a while 2,131: RIPKEN PASSES GEHRIG

September 07, 1995|By BILL TANTON

"Maybe now things will get back to normal," says Cal Ripken, major-league baseball's new champion iron man, Mr. 2,131.

Maybe things will get back to normal, whatever that is. They've been anything but normal lately at Camden Yards.

After the Hollywood-like love-ins of the last two nights as Cal caught Lou Gehrig and then passed him, you have to believe a return to normalcy is going to take a while.

For one thing, this unassuming, clean-living, 35-year-old family man from little Aberdeen, has changed Baltimore. Normalcy is not going to be the same as it used to be.

I remember when Cal was a quiet 12-year-old kid, sitting in the corner of the Orioles' clubhouse after games, waiting for his father, Cal Sr., the team's third base coach, to dress and drive them both home to Harford County.

Never did I nor anyone else at that time dream that Cal would someday join John Unitas and Brooks Robinson as Baltimore's all-time favorite sports heroes.

Cal has done that now. Even Brooks and Johnny U. never experienced the kind of adulation that was showered on Cal this week.

What's more, neither Unitas nor Robinson had to salvage a season for their sport. Cal has done that for baseball in this troubled year.

Another thing -- the Cal Ripken story isn't over.

He'll be in the lineup tomorrow night in Cleveland. The streak goes on. Who knows how much longer he'll continue to add to it?

"I think Cal will just go right on playing," says his brother, Bill,

who was the MVP and shortstop this year for Cleveland's Triple-A club in Buffalo. "I look forward to seeing Cal play another four or five years. That's just the way he approaches this game."

Things will taper off from the fever pitch of Streak Week. As they do -- as things start to become "normal" again -- we will realize there are other things going on in sports.

By this time in September college football, normally, is beginning to get people excited.

The two Division I-A teams in our state both play Saturday. At noon Maryland entertains North Carolina. Though Carolina looked sloppy in losing to Syracuse, the Tar Heels should beat Maryland by a couple touchdowns.

Navy, which hasn't had a winning season since 1982, opens its season Saturday night in Dallas against Southern Methodist.

Yesterday, during the countdown to Cal's setting the new consecutive-games record, I went to Annapolis and met Navy's new coach, Charlie Weatherbee.

"How's the new man doing?" I asked Jack Lengyel, Navy's athletic director.

"Outstanding," enthused Lengyel. Naturally.

Lengyel raved about George Chaump, too, when he came to Navy. Chaump was fired last December after five losing seasons. He's still looking for another job.

Weatherbee, 40, is the antithesis of low-key, soft-spoken, fatherly George Chaump.

But then during this long victory drought Navy has had coaches with a variety of personalities -- sound and solid Gary Tranquill ('82-'86), emotional Elliot Uzelac ('87-'89) and Chaump ('90-'94).

"Charlie," I said to Weatherbee, "they've had a lot of good coaches come through here in recent years and none of them won. What makes you think you can?"

"Well, the Good Lord willing," Weatherbee said with a smile. "We have to do a better job recruiting. We have to recruit to a system [Navy is running the option for the first time in five years]. We have to change people's attitudes. We want them to expect to win."

I mentioned to a reporter that Weatherbee sure seems optimistic and upbeat.

"He hasn't been through a season yet," the man pointed out.

Even Charlie Weatherbee, almost on the eve of his debut as Navy's 34th head coach, couldn't resist talking about Ripken.

"For Cal to do what he's done," Weatherbee said, "that's great. To have that kind of discipline. Just great."

As the madness over Cal subsides, we'll be looking more closely at Weatherbee at Navy and Mark Duffner at College Park. It's hard to imagine either having a winning season, but it'll be interesting to watch them try.

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