THE FACTS of Cal Ripken's final days as a player surprise us only because they command our attention in a moment of consuming grief and anxiety.
Looking ahead to next year already, we wonder what can replace the man's name in an Orioles box score. Even when the team fared poorly, the Ripken watch sustained us. "How'd Cal do?" we'd ask ourselves over the morning paper. Even in these trying days, when he has been 0-for-October, that ritual glance over the coffee started the day.
We know another star will rise, but the absence of "Ripken" in the lineup can't be replaced.
The man's presence in our lives -- his very voice -- won't end, of course. Maybe he'll manage. And surely he'll still be there, informing us that a certain hometown hot dog spins on the grill just waiting for us to "come on in and get 'em."
What seems a more compelling memory will be the picture of him tearing up on the night he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak. Even more amazing than the streak for those in the word business were the lines he spoke that night.
Even before we realized it, he'd made a speech that would compete with Gehrig's "luckiest man" speech in Yankee Stadium.
We took the line about what baseball demands of the player -- your very best, he said -- and turned it easily into a reminder of daily tasks we all face. We're all challenged to do our very best -- and if we're lucky Baltimoreans, we had the image of someone doing that for 21 years.
Now, we can see the Iron Man image morphing into an Iron Memory. One can write it. Accepting it will take time.