Pre-game tributes honor Cal Sr.

O's mark his passing with video presentation, painted `7' in 3rd base box

Opening Day 1999

April 06, 1999|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

The Orioles paid homage to the late Cal Ripken Sr. yesterday with baseball's version of a 21-gun salute.

In a stirring and unprecedented pre-game ceremony, the club presented a video tribute to its former manager and coach, who died March 25 from lung cancer.

Eyes fixed on the JumboTron scoreboard, the hushed crowd of 46,733 watched as Ripken's career -- or 33 seconds of its highlights -- flashed before it.

There was Ripken, in timeless Orioles footage, throwing batting practice as he did for more than a decade; giving signs from his third base coach's box; and slapping a player (Floyd Rayford) on the backside for making a good play.

One scene showed Ripken as manager, posing proudly for photos on the dugout steps with two of his players, sons Cal Jr. and Bill. Another showed him visiting youngsters in an area hospital, playing checkers with a young fan.

Before the montage, as players for the opposing clubs stood on the field, Hall of Fame broadcaster Chuck Thompson took the microphone to make an announcement of Orioles figures who had died during the previous year.

Besides Ripken, Thompson mentioned former shortstop Mark Belanger, minor-league outfielder Joel Stephens and Jeff Nelson, a video technician.

Normally, the club marks an Oriole's death with no more than a moment of silence.

Ripken's stature called for more, team officials decided. The result was a video featuring eight shots, culled from more than four hours of individual footage in club archives. Three staffers worked three days researching the film, done entirely in slow motion and marked by a series of dissolves and fades. No music or audio accompanied the images.

"We weren't out to create art or inspiration, but to pay tribute to one of the greatest Orioles," said Spiro Alafassos, director of ballpark entertainment.

"We broke with tradition to try to tell this man's historic career," he said. "We chose scenes that showed him at his most `Cal Sr.' I think the majority of people in this park would have drawn those same images in their minds."

One fan watching the montage, Marjorie Heimsath, cried.

"I got very emotional," said Heimsath, from Linthicum. "I never met the man, but he gave his life to baseball."

Ripken's work ethic begged the Opening Day salute, said Ronald Kielty, a fan from Milford, Conn.

"We'll take anyone who gives everything he's got," said Kielty, who snubs nearby New York to follow the Orioles. "Root for the Yankees? Forget it.

"The `Oriole Way' is the only way."

"The salute was not only necessary, but imperative, because he has been such a cornerstone for the whole Oriole team," said Al Ruppersberger of Riderwood. "The montage brought back memories we'll continue to have as long as there's an Oriole Park."

"I liked the tribute, but I wish it could have been longer, like in the seventh inning," said Duke Adams of Davidsonville. "I'm afraid some people may have been buying food and missed it."

The video was only part of the club's salute to Ripken. The Orioles have painted a bright orange 7 -- Ripken's number -- on the grass in the third base coach's box, where it will remain the rest of the season. Players are already wearing a black "7" patch on their jersey sleeves.

Ripken spent 36 years in the Orioles' organization as a player, coach and manager. After 14 years as a minor-league manager, he joined the Orioles' coaching staff in 1976. Ripken managed the Orioles in 1987 and a week of the 1988 season before being fired. He returned as a coach from 1989 to 1992.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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