Game 2,131 did number on hearts

INSIDE PITCH

September 09, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If there is anyone who still needs more evidence as to what Cal Ripken is all about, he is advised to get a tape of Wednesday night's historic game and fast forward to the middle of the fifth inning.

This was after Ripken had officially played in his 2,131st straight game, eclipsing Lou Gehrig's record. After the respectful, but emotion-charged, congratulations from his teammates, coaches, manager and anybody in the immediate vicinity.

After poignant moments with his family. After a genuine outpouring of affection from an adoring audience at Camden Yards. After more curtain calls.

After all of that, the HTS cameras twice caught Ripken in the dugout with his arms wrapped in a bear hug around Butch Barnett. Ripken had a huge smile on his face. Barnett was crying, almost uncontrollably.

To fully appreciate the scene, you have to understand the special relationship between the two. Barnett is a clubhouse attendant who assists Orioles equipment manager Jimmy Tyler.

He also is Ripken's personal (and playful) punching bag/tackling dummy who has been pinned to the floor in more bogus wrestling matches than he could ever remember. He shines spikes, hangs uniforms in the lockers and serves as everyone's fall guy.

Barnett has been around the Orioles' clubhouse for at least 10 years. He was one of those teen-agers who used to hang around Memorial Stadium, the area where he lives, and eventually Tyler gave him a job. He was the team's batboy until he outgrew the job, though he still serves in that capacity during one West

Coast trip every year.

He has had a unique rapport with all of the Orioles players, coaches and managers dating to the era of Earl Weaver. But he has had a special relationship with Ripken. He has been a ploy for many of the clubhouse pranks, usually orchestrated by Ripken, who is known for his locker-room frivolity.

It's hard to imagine the feelings Barnett must have felt Wednesday at 9:20 p.m. But, watching the early morning replay on HTS on Thursday, this observer couldn't help being moved by the obvious display of affection. Barnett, the clubhouse attendant who had stepped out of the background for a memorable instant, and Ripken, the man who had just made baseball history.

Cal laughing, Butch crying. It looked like a priceless moment for both, and probably was. And it seemed to symbolize everything that was expressed at Camden Yards that night and at the parade through downtown the next day.

There is more than just a feeling of mutual admiration between Ripken and Baltimore. It goes a lot deeper than that -- and may have been best expressed by Kate Sheriff, a financial officer for a local law firm, who took the day off to recuperate from the record-breaking game the night before and attend Thursday's parade.

After all of the adulation had been expressed, and the emotions had been drained, Sheriff looked at the throng that filled the Inner Harbor and said: "I think we've made him feel as good as he's made us feel."

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