Speech's words close a chapter

Pre-game tributes include visits by ex-teammates, even a street to call his own

October 07, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Standing in a spotlight in a darkened stadium, as a capacity crowd chanted thank you, Cal Ripken took six long minutes to swallow back the emotion of this final night and say goodbye.

"People have asked me these last couple weeks how I want to be remembered," Ripken said after gathering himself in a ceremony after the last game of his storied career. "My answer is simple: To be remembered at all is pretty special.

"If I am remembered, I hope it is because that by living my dream, I was able to make a difference."

Ripken's last game, a 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, was in many ways an afterthought on a night dedicated to saying farewell to one of the city's most beloved sports figures.

Before the game, former President Bill Clinton and a host of dignitaries praised Ripken as a model for America's game. The Orioles announced plans to retire No. 8 and to erect a bronze statue of him outside Camden Yards. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged the inevitable, telling the crowd that Ripken has a guaranteed spot at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Clinton's appearance was the biggest surprise of the night. The former president, who was on hand when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record in 1995, said Ripken was simply "the kind of man that every father would want his son to grow up to be. ... Thank you for a great, great run."

The Orioles announced that the team would donate $1 million to the baseball training facility Ripken is opening for kids in Aberdeen, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the city would rename Lee Street, just south of the ballpark, to Ripken Way.

Beginning next season, Selig said, Major League Baseball will give out the Cal Ripken Award to any player who appears in every game of his team's season.

Ripken's mother, Vi, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ripken, in a catcher's crouch, gave her a sign and then caught her pitch.

Before the real first pitch, Ripken headed onto the field flanked by the same lineup that played with him in his first game as an Orioles third baseman, Aug. 12, 1981: pitcher Scott McGregor, catcher Rick Dempsey, first baseman Eddie Murray, second baseman Rich Dauer, left fielder Gary Roenicke, center fielder Al Bumbry and right fielder Ken Singleton.

Their manager, Earl Weaver, was there, too. The only player missing was Mark Belanger, who died of lung cancer in 1998.

The game ended with Ripken in the on-deck circle, and the crowd chanting, "We want Cal." But Brady Anderson struck out, which set the scene for what everyone had come to see, Ripken's goodbye.

Ripken rounded the field in a red-and-white classic Corvette convertible, waiving to fans on their feet who saluted him for a final time. Hundreds of flashbulbs flickered and confetti glittered as it rained from the stands.

With the stadium darkened, Ripken walked from center field to a podium near shortstop. Several times he tried to speak but repeatedly paused, as though afraid he might break down.

Then he told the crowd that he had lived his childhood dream.

"Tonight we close a chapter of this dream, my playing career," Ripken said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to share what I learned. And I would be happy if that sharing led to something as simple as making one person smile."

Ripken left the field at 11 p.m., with a last wave to the stands. As he disappeared into the dugout, a burst of fireworks rose behind the scoreboard.

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