For fans, the end is surprising, sad Some are disappointed

most applaud the way Ripken took his bow

The Streak -- It's over

September 21, 1998|By Greg Schneider and Kevin L. McQuaid | Greg Schneider and Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF Sun Staff Writer Bill Free contributed to this article.

Fans had just settled into their seats for the last home game of the Orioles' 1998 season when Rick Faber noticed something strange.

"The O's took the field, and he didn't come out. It just ran right through the crowd," said Faber, 34, of Baltimore County. "Everyone realized what had happened, and that's when the cheering started. And Cal stepped out of the dugout and took his first bow."

What had happened was that Orioles iron man Cal Ripken had taken himself out of the lineup for last night's game against the New York Yankees, ending one of baseball's most enduring streaks at 2,632 consecutive games played.

Once the cheering died, fans coped with mixed emotions: Shock and sadness that The Streak had ended, but relief that a ballclub that had failed to meet expectations this year could begin rebuilding without distraction.

"I almost teared up," said Scott Belt, 42, a data processing consultant. "I was talking about it with my kids on the way down here, wondering whether he was gonna do it tonight. He was a class act to do it at home."

The chance to witness a piece of baseball history caught everyone off guard, including members of the ballpark staff. "Why?" called out ticket taker Rebecca Taylor, 35, arms outstretched with the cheering stadium behind her. "Why isn't he playing?"

Jerry Humble, 45, a computer consultant from San Diego, couldn't believe his luck. He travels to Baltimore a few times a year on business, and tries to catch the occasional Orioles game. One of those happened to be on Sept. 6, 1995 when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record with 2,131 consecutive games played.

Another was last night.

"I was sad, mainly, sad he's not playing," Humble said. "It's an amazing streak, you know what I mean?"

Becky Williams, 67, who had paid $30 to take a bus to the game from her home in Hagerstown, was upset by the turn of events. "I think it's terrible they took him out of the lineup. Cal's my boy," she said. "I think it's Ray Miller. He doesn't like him. They ought to throw him in the river."

Not everyone was sorry to see Ripken sit down, though.

"Now's as good a time as any," said Tia Schwartzman, walking briskly through Oriole Park. "The Orioles are out of it for this year, and he had to do it sometime."

"I think it's good for the team," said 11-year-old Mike Jurczak, who wasn't even born when the Aberdeen native's streak began in May 1982. "He never seemed to do much, and he's getting old."

But some of Ripken's younger fans seemed almost overwhelmed by a combination of excitement and disappointment. Nine-year-old Ryan Townsley of Kingsville, eyes wide beneath a black Orioles cap, could hardly express how he felt. "I'm sad," he finally said. "He's my favorite player."

His mother, Sharon, had walked him around to souvenir stands trying to buy something commemorating the occasion. "But they didn't have anything. Apparently everybody was taken by surprise," she said.

Mostly, fans attending the game thought Ripken's decision was the right thing for the team, and that he showed as much grace as he had three years ago in breaking the record.

"He's a smart man, and it was a smart move," said Morris Johnson, 40, who works as a corporate trainer. "He knew it was his time, and he's going out at the peak. Better now than if he started to play bad, you know? He's making the best move for him."

"It's almost like he doesn't want to be selfish, so he can give some of the younger guys a chance," Belt said. "Cal's always been a classy guy, and he showed that again tonight. He didn't want any fanfare, just for the teams to get on with the game."

A ticket stub was the only souvenir Mike Trent, 35, of Vienna, Va., expected to take home as he stood watching Ripken take his bow. He had gotten his ticket at the last minute from a friend of a friend, and he felt lucky just to be there. Then it hit him.

"About that time I realized -- 'Hey! I've got a video camera in my bag!' And I started trying to dig it out," Trent said. "But by that time, it was too late. He'd already started back into the dugout. I missed it. I missed it all."

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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