Farewell, Cal

Orioles great plays final game at home vs. Red Sox

October 07, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun Staff

As the lights dimmed at Camden Yards tonight, the career of Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken also went dark.

Ripken played in his final game, the 3,001st since leaving Triple-A Rochester for the major leagues in August 1981. He takes with him a warehouse full of records and accolades, and the organization's last link to a Hall of Famer.

The connection began with Brooks Robinson and extended past Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and most likely Eddie Murray. It ended tonight with baseball's Iron Man, the all-time leader for consecutive games played and a virtually certain first-ballot inductee to Cooperstown.

It ended an era.

More gifts and tributes were bestowed upon Ripken, whose every movement once again brought rousing ovations from a capacity crowd that found it difficult to let go. They reluctantly bid farewell to one of only seven players with both 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. A player who redefined the shortstop position. A big man who found significance in every small detail.

Fans rose to their feet before Ripken reached the plate in his first at-bat against Boston's David Cone, a scene they repeated each time his turn came up. And on each occasion, Ripken fought to maintain his concentration while surrounded by distractions he hadn't experienced since chasing Lou Gehrig's record six years ago.

Never comfortable with having a game delayed on his behalf, Ripken was given no choice. It's tough to swing a bat while being hugged by 49,000 people.

Since his plans to retire were made public on June 19, Ripken was batting .276 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in 74 games going into the weekend. He endured an 0-for-33 streak, the longest drought of his career, before lining a single off the glove of Boston third baseman Shea Hillenbrand in the fifth inning of Thursday's game.

Ripken hit home runs in six of 12 "farewell" cities. He also connected off Chan Ho Park in the All-Star Game in Seattle to become the oldest player to homer and win the Most Valuable Player award.

He won over fans in Baltimore a long time ago. Tonight, they did more than send off a player into the next phase of his life. They said goodbye to one of their own.

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