Fans say city, Iron Man were perfect fit

Work ethics matched, though Ripken approach touched broader base

October 07, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

They came with their faces painted orange and black, or wearing jerseys with No. 8 on the back. They came with their memories of spectacular plays and an ache in their hearts that comes with having to say goodbye.

They were hometowners and die-hard fans, all of them here on a crisp, autumn night to honor a baseball legend.

"It's a proud and poignant night for Baltimore," said Martin O'Malley, mayor of the city and Orioles fan.

"Cal really personifed the greatest qualities about the people of this city, their work ethic and their perseverance."

Cal Ripken is not from Baltimore, but he came to embody the city's dream of itself - its love of the simple, basic and humble. This has never been a flashy town, never a diamonds-and-furs kind of place.

And so, Baltimore didn't need to fall in love with a flashy player. It might honor such a player, yes, but it adored, gave unconditional love to Ripken.

Losing Ripken means Baltimore is losing a bit of itself. Who has better reflected the city?

Tom Maronick says those values are part of the city's fabric.

"Baltimore is a working-class city. It started as a port city - stevedores and dock workers," said Maronick, who was born and raised in Baltimore and graduated from Loyola High School.

"Cal Ripken embodies that; came to work everyday, played through pain."

And he stayed. That's another remarkable fact. His baseball career spanned a time when allegiance and loyalty became rather quaint ideas - not counting much when compared to the cold realities of multimillion-dollar contracts and players coming and going before fans could build a bond.

Ripken has been here since 1981. In that, he exemplifies yet another ideal, that of the hometown boy who grows up to play on his hometown team - and not only play, but become an all-star whose name will forever stand alongside the legends of baseball's golden age. Who can think of Lou Gehrig now without thinking of Cal Ripken?

"He's my hero," said Jen Bowman, who coaches softball at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

She's been coming to Orioles games for years, dating to the old days at Memorial Stadium. She came to see Ripken. He was in every game she attended."He just embodies the game itself and how it should be played; fundamentals," she said. "We use Cal as our example. He's all about doing things right."

Bowman, who is from Greensboro on the Eastern Shore, couldn't say what will happen next year, how the fans will react to lineups that don't include Ripken.

"I don't want to say I won't be as interested because I love the Orioles," she said. "But the fact is, I love Cal." On this night, it didn't matter if you were a hometowner or a die-hard baseball fan. Just ask Ed Yuzenas, who made the drive down from Philadelphia.

"Come on, now. We love Cal," he said.

Why?

"Because he's a great man. He's a great player. He's what America stands for," said Yuzenas, standing in Section 82, holding a huge, handmade sign thanking Ripken for a career of achievements: 2,632 consecutive games; 3,184 hits; 431 home runs.

"He signs autographs for kids. What more could you want?"

Some fans traveled more than a thousand miles to see the game.

Rip Claunch and his twin brother, Ed, flew in from Cocoa Beach, Fla., Friday night for their first visit to Baltimore. The brothers spent their weekend bar-hopping, walking around the Inner Harbor and Fells Point before attending last night's game.

"We were having a party in Florida on Labor Day and said, `Wouldn't it be nice to go to Cal's last game," said Rip, 38. "We got a ticket [on eBay] and the only other thing we needed was a pair of shoes to come up here. We don't wear shoes in Florida."

The brothers, along with their friend, Tim Carroll, 42, also from Florida, arrived at the game in No. 8 Orioles jerseys.

"This night is going to bring the baseball community together," said Ed Claunch, also 38. "Cal has been a lifelong hero, I think he epitomizes what a major-league baseball player should be."

Sun staff writers Tim Craig and Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.

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