Like every other moment of the next three months, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken will especially savor his 19th, and final, selection to Tuesday's All-Star Game at Safeco Field in Seattle. Though he may have been prouder of the statistics that ushered him into previous games, Ripken said before last night's game that he is "running really high inside" about the last-in-a-lifetime experience.
Ripken jumped from third place in fan balloting announced Monday to overtake the Seattle Mariners' David Bell and the Anaheim Angels' Troy Glaus. He was the only starter to rally in the final tabulation.
"Without getting too sentimental at looking back over your career, you like to accomplish something and leave your mark in a certain way. Being voted to an All-Star Game means you've done a few things on the playing field that have been good," said Ripken, who last night appeared in his 2,931st game.
Insisting he would "play it out," Ripken also put to rest speculation that he would play his final game before retiring at Camden Yards instead of Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium.
Some had thought Ripken might follow precedent set by Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who played his final game as a Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park rather than accompany the team to New York to face its most hated rival. Williams retired in 1960.
Ripken instead will bid the game farewell on the same field that served as a stage for the stricken Lou Gehrig's poignant retirement speech in 1939.
Ripken's selection breaks a tie with Brooks Robinson for most All-Star appearances by an American League player and ties career National League shortstop Ozzie Smith for most appearances by any player. This year's election marks the 17th time Ripken has made the team via fan balloting. "As long as you're there, I guess it doesn't matter. But there's something very special about knowing the voting comes from all the ballparks," he said.
Ripken appeared in his first All-Star Game in 1983, the year the American League broke a string of 11 consecutive losses in a 13-3 blowout. His final appearance will also mark the last showing by San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn and the ascendance of rookie outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners as the most popular vote-getter.
"There has been an evolution of players and there has been a changing of the guard," Ripken said. "I've been in there as one of the youngest guys, and I've been in there as one of the oldest guys. It's always a great experience to see players develop and come into their own and do the things they can do."
Ripken's surge past Bell and Glaus was assisted June 26 by a fifth shipment of ballots from Camden Yards to Major League Baseball's central offices. Internet voting, which extended a week past in-park balloting, also provided a push.
"I've always thought it was a great thing when the fans say you deserve to be at the All-Star Game," said Ripken, whose universal popularity overcame his first-half offensive struggles that left him with a .227 average, four home runs and 25 RBIs at the season's midpoint. "Certain years you want to feel really good because of putting together stats that match your election. I've had years where I didn't stick my chest out as far. This is certainly one of those. But selfishly speaking, this being your last year and knowing I'm not going to be playing baseball after this, I'm running really high inside and looking forward to being there. I really think it's a great thing."
Reserves for both teams will be announced today, but it is unlikely Ripken will be accompanied by any of his teammates to Safeco Field. If so, it will mark the first time since 1995 that Ripken has been the Orioles' only representative at the game.
For Ripken, the game's summer festival has held meaning since his childhood. He reflected yesterday on gathering with family and friends to watch the game during a break in the season that often allowed his father, Cal Sr., to spend uninterrupted time at home. Ripken's All-Star appearance honors both the game and those memories.
"To be in that position, I feel a responsibility to go and perform the best you can. I think it's always been a great celebration of baseball and continues to be."