Ripken puts aside play by numbers

Out of milestones, he happily awaits return to `normal' Orioles life

April 18, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As Cal Ripken walked from a spare clubhouse yesterday afternoon, he stopped for Home Team Sports broadcaster and former teammate Mike Flanagan and Flanagan's wife, Alex.

With his hand wrapped around a faux bat handle, Ripken placed his hands inside a mold that Alex Flanagan would use to bring the pose to life. On his way to dress for a game that would not take place, Ripken needed only three minutes to make an impression.

Ripken had walked through Camden Yards hundreds of times before but yesterday was his first trip as a 3,000-hit player. Only two days removed from the seventh-inning single off Minnesota reliever Hector Carrasco, Ripken addressed his hometown media with a sense of relief, a degree of patience for questions asked numerous times before, and anticipation of a less intense era.

"I'm hoping that it will get to a normal environment, a normal atmosphere," he said.

Such an atmosphere has eluded him for much of the last five years -- either for reasons of The Streak, his lower back pain, his surgery last September and his chase of 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. With the passage of his final "big round number," he believes himself in possession of the same approach to his job now as he did as a rookie in 1982.

"The fact that I've got a few hits and hit a few home runs doesn't change the person you are," said Ripken, adding, "I try to maintain perspective and block out the outside things and never get caught up in it. In some ways, it's a little embarrassing to have the attention I've received. I think I've had enough attention to last me four or five lifetimes."

Four months shy of his 40th birthday, Ripken confesses being embarrassed by the universal adulation he has received, often reaching a crescendo in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. Now, with no more numerical goals to chase, no more exclusive clubs left to join, he craves calm.

"So many times these milestones or big round numbers come up periodically and they go away," said Ripken. "In between, it's very normal and it's very good just to play the game of baseball. That's what I look forward to. That's how I like playing the game."

Ripken said he never approached any of the other members of the 3,000-hit club, including first base coach Eddie Murray, about what to expect of the moment. Nor did he use it as motivation.

"Maybe if my personality or my temperament was a little different, I could feed on that," Ripken said during a 25-minute news conference inside an auxiliary clubhouse. "It certainly seemed from a distance that Pete Rose fed off that sort of thing and used it to his advantage.

"To me, I have to figure out how to suppress it and get it out of the way. It's a fight. Even though I would find it fascinating to get in their head to know what their feelings were and share their experiences, I think it's one of those experiences for me better served after the fact than before.

"It's not that I'm not thankful for it. At some point in your career, you want to be noticed and it's almost like getting a pat on your back and being told good job.

"I guess downplaying is how I deal with it."

Ripken was asked about his impromptu post-game signing session along the Metrodome first base box seats Saturday. On each ball Ripken signed his name and 4-15-00 to commemorate 3,000.

Clearly fatigued from the pursuit and at times tired of the media interest in it, Ripken referred to the moment as "a celebration of baseball."

Ripken noted that he already has been questioned about his possible retirement "a million times." He reiterated that he doesn't perceive the end of his career as a sad time, but an inevitable one.

"I think we all know you have your time in the sun if you're really lucky, then you kind of go away and watch the next group of guys come in," said Ripken. "Everybody wants to make their mark. I feel really good about my contribution to baseball."

The memory of his late father remains strong with the son. However, Ripken downplayed the milestone served as a reminder of Cal Sr.'s role in his career any more than the simple act of putting on his uniform every day.

"The most prominent is when you put on your unform. I remember the joy that came over my dad when he put on his uniform. I didn't need the 3,000th hit to confirm that," he said.

But the literal moment of his milestone didn't escape his mother, Vi.

During a phone hookup arranged by Home Team Sports Saturday night, Vi Ripken reminded her son of the exact moment of his 3,000th hit -- 8: 07 local time -- and how it represented a combination of Jr. and Sr.'s uniform numbers.

"I thought it was interesting," said the son. "Mom always has a way to find that special part of you. I didn't expect it. I thought it was a pleasant surprise. I'm glad I got a chance to talk to her even though everybody was listening in."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay

Devil Rays Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Steve Trachsel (1-1, 6.32) vs. Orioles' Pat Rapp (1-0, 3.75)

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