For a humble, down-to-earth superstar, Cal Ripken attracted his share of big names to Camden Yards last night, and the biggest was the former leader of the Free World, Bill Clinton.
Looking tanned and rested and ready to run for a third term, the former president strode out of the Orioles dugout a few minutes before 7 to glad-hand Ripken and everyone else on the flower-bedecked stage during the pre-game tribute to the future Hall of Famer.
As many in the sellout crowd booed lustily, a guy in the stands held up a sign that said, "Four more years!" that was clearly meant for Ripken, although Clinton may have thought otherwise.
"I'm happy for baseball and Sammy Sosa and for Seattle," Clinton said with a broad smile as the crowd roared, "but I think the great story this year is Cal Ripken."
A few minutes later, as he left the field, the former president was booed again.
Other celebrities in the stands for Ripken's big night included actors Edward Norton and Josh Charles, star of the former ABC-TV series "Sports Night," who managed not to spill his beer as he gave ex-Orioles great Boog Powell a hug in front of Boog's Barbecue.
Tom Clancy, the noted spy-thriller writer and a minority owner of the Orioles, told the crowd during the pre-game ceremonies that Ripken bore "the burden of being that person that kids look up to."
"No one has ever borne that burden more graciously than Cal Ripken," Clancy said as the crowd cheered and clapped.
That famous Irish rock balladeer, Martin O'Malley, also showed at the Yard last night with his wife, District Court Judge Catherine Curran-O'Malley.
The mayor of Baltimore, clad in an Orioles warm-up jacket, told the crowd the city would be renaming Lee Street, directly adjacent to the stadium, Ripken Way.
The mayor did not favor the crowd with a selection from the play sheet of his band, O'Malley's March, leaving the pre-game musical entertainment to the Maryland Heritage Ensemble and soloist Tony Sciuto.
Baseball heavyweights on hand for the pre-game tribute to Ripken included Hall of Famers Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer and near-certain Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.
With Palmer serving as spokesman - and mercifully taking no verbal jabs at his old foil, Weaver - the group presented Ripken with a huge sculpture of his No. 8, which will find a home in the plaza in front of the ballpark's main entrance.
Curiously, one of the first "celebrities" introduced by master of ceremonies Jim Hunter was the Oriole Bird, who, according to a video clip played on the Jumbotron, had spilled coffee on Ripken during his first season of 1981.
The Bird went up to Ripken and chirped something, which was apparently taken as an apology by the 19-time All-Star.
The identity of the person throwing out the first ball was a closely guarded secret until game time, but it turned out to be Ripken's mother, Vi.
Crouched behind home plate in a catcher's stance, Ripken flashed a series of signals to his mom, who eventually delivered a semi-fastball low and away to a right-handed batter.
Ripken smiled as he gloved the pitch, hugged his mom, and eventually, they played a baseball game.