Cal inspired fans to love the game as much as he did

April 07, 2002|By Melinda Farris

ARLINGTON, Va. - I never thought baseball was exciting. It just seemed so slow.

Even in 1973, life was faster than nine innings in the hot sun. Buying a hot dog and Coke only takes up so much time. Baseball lasted too long; there was not enough excitement and - my main complaint - there were no cheers and, at the time, no "wave."

In a small high school baseball field, the wave would have been pointless anyway.

Then I became "bat girl" for my high school boys' baseball team, which meant my entire function was to wear cute coordinating shorts ensembles (blue and yellow) and occasionally pick up the bats and bring them back to the dugout. If you think this was a mindless job, just recast it in today's language of "networking opportunities."

Then, many years later, I married a true, orange-and-black-cap-wearing, game-loving Orioles fan, Bob.

Through the years, we have hauled ourselves through the back streets of Baltimore to Memorial Stadium and ridden the bus back to the Inner Harbor. Bob has been hit by a foul ball (which he'll assure you he caught), been thrilled with the sights and smells of Camden Yards and, of course, never, ever (even when the Orioles were losing by six or more) left early. It's a sign of weakness to leave an Orioles game early. The shopping beckons, the restaurants entice, but loyal Orioles fans keep their seats, dreaming of World Series glory.

Four years ago, Bob went to a new level of fan support - spring training in Florida. He goes for the entire week and does tough duty - staying in Fort Lauderdale and roving from ballpark to ballpark with other devoted fans from every background you can imagine.

This year, spring training without Cal was different for Bob. Bob still got into the spirit, but he wasn't looking around. He didn't see the little kids (and adults) running to the fence and the dugout asking for Cal's autograph. The world didn't sit in suspense willing Cal to hit, pitch and run better than anyone else. Because he is part of us.

The day Cal announced he was retiring was a sad one in our house. Bob, who is usually optimistic and resilient, was very depressed. It took me a while to understand that he and Cal had played together - that although there is a difference in age, Bob has been with Cal through his entire career.

He played with Cal in his early days when Cal was the first player to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in back-to-back seasons. He was on the field with Cal during the great years like 1990, when Cal set eight Major League fielding records in one season, and 1991, when he was the last player to bat in Memorial Stadium. Bob was there for the not-so-great times, like April 1988, when Cal went 0-29 - the longest hitless streak of his career.

In short, Bob played his baseball career through Cal Ripken.

How many Bobs are out there, who believe that if they had ever made it to the Majors they would have played like Cal Ripken, and maybe that they were Cal Ripken in their dreams?

They all have their special memories of Cal, and in that way we're all the same. When Cal walked onto the field, we sat a little straighter and smiled a little brighter, thinking maybe his goodness and character would reach us.

We hoped he would know we admired him for being a great baseball player. But we loved him for displaying the dying qualities of a great athlete - determination, love of the game vs. love of the money, believing the fans are No. 1 and, as Bob says, "just being a great American."

We'll miss you, Cal. But you'll always be in the heart of a guy named Bob, who thinks the two of you had a great career.

Melinda Farris is president of a communications company in Arlington, Va. Her husband, Bob, is attorney Robert Weed.

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