A day for Cal and dads

October 13, 2001|By ROB KASPER

LAST Saturday night in Baltimore it felt good to be a dad. Oriole Park at Camden Yards resounded with tributes to fathers.

Cal Ripken Sr., who not only raised an impressive family but also coached and managed other major league players, was almost canonized. Cal Jr. was given a heartfelt send-off to retirement by legions of roaring fans as his children, Rachel and Ryan, looked on. Later in the evening, 8-year-old Ryan seemed to glory in his new duties as an Oriole batboy, a job he landed because his dad had connections. Finally, the crowd at Camden Yards had less of the high-roller, entertain-the-client mood to it and more of a dad's-night-out tone.

In keeping with the Father Knows Best theme of the evening, I climbed up to section 342, to the $13 seats in the upper deck behind home plate to see my friend, Jordan Loran. Jordan, 51, has been going to Orioles games since he was a kid (his first game was 1957). He has also has pulled off what I regard as a triumph of fatherhood. Through the years, he has been able to get his two kids, Sara, now 19, and Nick, 16, to regularly and willingly accompany him to Sunday afternoon Orioles games.

Since last Saturday night's game was rescheduled from its original Sunday afternoon slot, Jordan was there. He has held season tickets to Sunday afternoon games since 1982 - which, as he pointed out, was Cal's rookie year.

In my experience, the part of fatherhood known as spending time with your kids is tricky terrain. It is pretty easy to find something your kids enjoy doing and you don't. Listening to loud, discordant music at 1 a.m. comes to mind. It is also not too hard to find an activity, such as stimulating after-dinner conversation, that you find interesting but your kids find deadly dull. So you often end up searching for middle ground, for occasional activities that deliver mild, mutual enjoyment to both generations.

Jordan told me one reason going to baseball games worked for him was that it's a family tradition. His father, David, had taken him to many games at Memorial Stadium. As a kid growing up in Baltimore, Jordan was a "Junior Oriole" who sat in the bleachers and waved his Orioles pennant.

Another reason it worked was that Jordan introduced his kids to this ritual at an early age. His daughter was a little over a year old when he took her to her first game in 1983. His son was not much older when he first visited the family seats behind home plate in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium.

"The kids would last three or four innings, then fall asleep," Jordan said. "I would take a blanket and an umbrella and I would stretch the kids out in the shade on the benches that were in the upper deck. They would sleep, and I would smoke cigars and watch baseball. It was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon."

When his daughter, now a sophomore at the University of Maryland, reached adolescence, her attendance at games became sporadic. "For a time the game was a father-daughter thing, our time together," Jordan said. "When your kids get older, their lives fill up with other things. Imagine that."

He also watched a lot of bad baseball. Since winning the World Series in 1983, the Orioles have reached post-season play only twice. Jordan said that while he preferred watching winning baseball, there were other benefits. "It is three or four hours with your kid, and you talk, about anything,"

In the years that both kids wanted to go, they took turns. Lately, Jordan's usual companion has been his son, Nick, now a sophomore at Carver School for the Arts.

Last Saturday night, Nick was sharing nachos with his dad and hollering "Rip one, Ripken!" as the Orioles star took his last swings.

I asked Nick to recall some of his ballpark bonding highlights from his years with his dad. He mentioned the time they had seen a guy climb the left-field foul pole, the time they had seen a female fan flash her bare breasts at the JumbroTron camera, and the time he had gone to a concession stand to fetch a sandwich for his dad and missed seeing the Orioles hit four home runs in one inning.

"I missed all four home runs for a turkey on a Kaiser roll," he said.

He also told of the time his dad almost caught a baseball. The father-son team had arrived early and positioned themselves in the left-field seats in hope of snagging a batting-practice long ball. A promising fly ball came toward them. Then, according to the son's account, his dad muffed it.

"He thought he was the man," Nick laughed, imitating the stylish pose his father allegedly struck trying to make the catch.

"And where," Jordan asked his son, "was my backup?"

So on a night when Baltimore said goodbye to Cal, one of its favorite sons, and paid tribute to Cal Sr., one of its fabled fathers, another Baltimore son was giving his father a hard time. History was being made on the field and in the upper deck, family life was moving along at its normal pace.

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