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The Retirement Of Cal Ripken

October 07, 2001|By Joe Strauss | By Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Closing one chapter to open another, Cal Ripken last night walked away from the game he helped define for 21 seasons. Standing behind a podium situated between shortstop and third base, he struggled for several minutes to find the right words for a moment that offered the final challenge of his career.

"Tonight we close a chapter of this dream - my playing career. But I have other dreams," Ripken said. "You know, I might have some white hair on top of this head; well, maybe on the sides of this head. But I'm not really that old. My dreams for the future include pursuing my passion for baseball. Hopefully, I will be able to share what I have learned and I would be if happy if that sharing would lead to something as simple as a smile on the face of others."

A night of imagery, emotion and substance included Ripken's watching the final out of a 5-1 loss from the on-deck circle as his close friend Brady Anderson struck out. His number retired before the game, Ripken then bathed within adulation and a swirling light display before making his farewell.

Few will remember that the Orioles lost to the Boston Red Sox, but none will forget the last night that Ripken would step from the first base dugout to thank a gathering that thought him not only a hero-player or a role model, but also one of its own.

The game ended with a standing crowd shouting, "We want Cal!" as Anderson tried to keep the game alive long enough to give Ripken one last at-bat. When Anderson swung through Ugueth Urbina's 3-2 fastball, it was over. Anderson walked to the dugout, greeted by his smiling best friend. Ripken rubbed his helmet, Anderson dipped his head. Only the goodbyes remained.

"I'm going to go away in a baseball sense. I'm not playing anymore, so there's a certain finality, a certain end," Ripken said. "I don't want to say there was a certain desperation. I felt that."

Ripken arrived alone at the park around 3:30 p.m. The first minutes of his final day as a player were spent meeting with his wife and two children in the clubhouse video room. He later met with Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss, who notified him of the club's intention to donate $1 million for construction of the mini-Camden Yards at Ripken's Aberdeen Project. Ripken admittedly was stunned.

Slipping into the clubhouse as quietly as possible, Ripken spoke with several teammates before heading to his locker at 4:12 p.m. to dress for the final time.

It was at this time of day Ripken felt closest to his late father, Cal Sr. The son always remembered the father at his proudest when he slipped into his uniform and began the work he loved.

Ripken dressed purposefully, speaking casually with visitors while preparing himself for a series of dugout interviews - one with Comcast SportsNet's Michael Reghi and another with WBAL play-by-play voice Jim Hunter. "I've had my fill," Ripken told Hunter as if to dispel the notion of his exit being cause for sadness.

Ripken granted a quickie photo shoot for the upcoming ESPY Awards, his hands framing his face as a photographer instructed him, "Tighter. Tighter. Tighter."

Finally only Ripken's eyes pierced the handmade frame.

He chatted with Three Mo' Tenors before accepting a CD and two hats from the group that would perform the national anthem, then excused himself to hit in the indoor batting cage.

"I know he's probably going to be relieved when it's over," said Anderson, Ripken's teammate since 1988. "A lot of athletes, when they leave, you feel bad for them. They seem so sad, distraught or devastated. It seems the opposite for Cal. I honestly think it's going to be a relief from the grind and the attention he has received. In that way, it won't be sad."

The final scorecard

Upstairs, former Sun baseball writer Jim Henneman prepared his scorecard. Now official scorer, Henneman saw Ripken's first game. He would savor the last.

The original scorecard becomes property of Major League Baseball, "but I think I'm going to be keeping a copy," Henneman said.

At 6:12 p.m. Ripken reached the dugout for a pre-game ceremony that began four minutes later and offered his introduction seven minutes after that. He reached a stage reserved for his wife, children and mother while Hunter emceed. Former President Bill Clinton was on hand. Majority owner Peter Angelos also ventured into the dugout. Ripken's moment to speak would come later, but his moment for reflection already had arrived.

"You always wonder if what you see is what you get," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said during the pre-game ceremony. "It's been my experience with Cal in the two years that I've been around that, yes, what you get is what you see. Cal is Cal."

Unlike the night six years ago when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record, the ceremony did not include speaking parts for any member of the Orioles' front office other than vice chairman of community projects and public affairs Tom Clancy.

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