Orioles fans learned yesterday that they're losing their hometown boy turned Iron Man, their Cal.
Cal Ripken, the third baseman who needs no last name in Baltimore or in baseball, announced that he's retiring after 21 years with the Orioles.
Fans could find little else to talk about yesterday.
"If you look at the whole league, he's the only one who's a lifer. He's the last of the stud breed. But it's time," said Bob Zeman of Baldwin. At 41, he is about the same age as Ripken, who will turn 41 on Aug. 24. "I know how I feel when I get out of bed in the morning. Your body changes, especially somebody like him, pumping it out every day."
Dave Hoffman, a father of three from Hanover, Pa., said, "We're all really going to miss him, but he did pick the right time."
Ripken has played 2,922 games and has 3,107 hits since his major-league debut in 1981.
He broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played in 1995, and didn't stop the streak until he played his 2,632nd in 1998.
Now graying and bothered by injuries, he has been slowed recently. His spring training got a late start after he fractured a rib while playing basketball at his Reisterstown home in February.
His long career shows resilience typical of Baltimore, said Mayor Martin O'Malley.
"It's kind of a bittersweet day. I guess we're all sad not to see him trot out there on the field," O'Malley said. "On the other hand, you have to say, `What a great career.' His career is a symbol of the greatness of this city. He gave 100 percent every day."
William Donald Schaefer, former Baltimore mayor, former Maryland governor, current state comptroller, and himself in the twilight of an extraordinary career, said he doesn't like the word "retire" for anyone, especially Ripken.
"He's young. He has a whole new career in front of him. He's got many years of productive life," said Schaefer, 79. "He's made his mark and he's going out in a blaze of glory, at the height of his popularity."
Schaefer said he admires Ripken for remaining loyal to his home team. "A man like that staying with one ballclub the whole time is truly remarkable."
Ripken has become a tourist attraction.
At Harborplace, the manager of Stadium Sports said her store's most popular shirt is still Ripken's No. 8, with dozens sold every week.
But Pat Zimnawoda said people were expecting Ripken to retire this year. "It's time for him. He's been around forever."
Rathea Mims, 48, said she'll continue to drive friends by Ripken's estate when they visit.
"He's like a legend in Maryland," said Mims, of Pikesville. "When you go out of town, people ask you two things: Do you live near Lexington Market? And have you ever met Cal Ripken?"
Several of the fans arriving for last night's game were sentimental as they recalled Ripken's glory days unfolding along with their own lives.
"I've watched him since he was drafted," said Robert Tate, a 31-year-old father from East Baltimore. "I was there when they won it all on 33rd Street." Then, fighting back his emotion, Tate added, "It's just never going to be the same."
Denton resident David Hoopengardner, who was decked out in Orioles paraphernalia, said, "My son and I went to 2,129 [the game before Ripken tied Gehrig's streak]. ... The standing ovations the crowd gave him gave me chills up and down my spine."
Bill Wong, a 49-year-old Frederick Keys employee from Mount Airy, said he was deeply touched the night Ripken broke Gehrig's consecutive-games record. "When Cal went on the field to greet the fans, I was moved. ... I'll never forget that."
Each has a Ripken feat or two stored away in the back of his or her mind. Wong fondly remembered Ripken's "brilliance" at the 1991 All-Star Game home run derby in Toronto.
Said a nostalgic Harford County man, "I even remember Cal when he played for Aberdeen in high school." Millard McKay, 46, of Pylesville, added, "He was a bigger soccer star than he was a baseball star back then; most people don't remember that."
Earlier yesterday, fans wanting to get in their last Cal fix went to the box office at Camden Yards to get a ticket -- any ticket -- to see him play one last time. The line began forming at about 8 a.m., and tickets for the last two home games sold out almost immediately.
Clare Brady was on line at 9:45 a.m. to get tickets for herself, her husband and their three boys who are baseball fanatics.
"Cal's a terrific role model for the kids. There aren't many sports players who are today," said Brady, 40, who lives in Annapolis. "A lot of gifted athletes are so into drugs and money, and they're not very humble. Cal is humble."
Doug McLellan, 9, whose family lives in Columbia, was on line with his little brother, Andrew, 7, and his mother, Carolyn, said Ripken has been his favorite player his whole life.
"I'm sad because he's my favorite player," said Doug, clad in an Orioles hat and T-shirt. "He shows you, like, how to do things in a good way, how to be better."
In line behind him, Joe Palmieri, 74, said he came by the stadium yesterday because he wanted to see Ripken play a last game.
Palmieri, who lives in Highlandtown and owns a religious book store, said he saw Ripken play his first game at Memorial Stadium.
"You hate to see a guy like that go," he said. "At my age, I figured I'll never get to see him in the Hall of Fame. I've got my fingers crossed I'll make it."
Sun staff writer Luke W. Broadwater contributed to this article.