Ripken visits Hall he'll soon call home

One of baseball's greats gets a Cooperstown walk-through

May 10, 2007|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun reporter

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The juxtaposition was too interesting to ignore. The Orioles organization spent yesterday dodging questions about the latest troubling revelations in baseball's seemingly endless steroid scandal while squeaky clean Cal Ripken Jr. toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame in preparation for his induction in July.

Just a coincidence, of course. Ripken's orientation visit to Cooperstown was planned months ago. The Hall has been bringing inducted members in early since 1994 to give them a feel for the place and a chance to complete housing plans for the many family members and guests who will join them for induction weekend in late July.

Cal and Kelly Ripken met with Hall of Fame chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark and president Dale Petrovsky, rummaged through the archives and wandered through the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery, where Cal posed with the bronze tablet that bears the likeness and accomplishments of Lou Gehrig.

It was the ultimate baseball trip down memory lane. Hall of Fame librarians and archivists laid out Ripken memorabilia that dated to his minor league career, including the scorecard from the longest professional baseball game in history - a 33-inning affair between Rochester and Pawtucket that featured Ripken and fellow Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.

There also were the scorecards from his record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game and the game in which he finally sat down, ceding third base for the night to Ryan Minor.

Every piece and picture told a story, and sometimes Ripken filled in the blanks.

"Did you know that Ryan refused to run out to the field that night because he thought it was a rookie joke?" Ripken said.

Ripken will forever be linked with Gehrig, whose unprecedented durability and early death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis have made him baseball's most revered tragic hero, so his presence was felt throughout the late-afternoon tour.

Ripken put on white gloves to handle Gehrig's 1939 jersey and one of the Iron Horse's first baseman's mitts, marveling at how tiny the gloves of that period were in comparison with those in use today.

"When you hold it in your hand, you're in touch with another era," he said. "That's kind of what was cool about The Streak. After the cancellation of the [1994] World Series, the people wanted to attach themselves to something that was real ... that went back to an earlier time. By holding his glove in your hand, you feel a kinship to that time."

Ripken apparently wasn't aware of the latest steroid revelations, which are having the same kind of effect on baseball fans today. He would only say he has gotten "kind of numb to it."

That was a story for a different time and place. This day was about Ripken and his rightful place among baseball's greatest heroes. He and his wife seemed to be truly enjoying the opportunity to browse through baseball history, particularly the mementos the Hall accumulated from his career.

Kelly Ripken playfully picked through old photographs and found a picture of the two wearing silk jackets bearing the logo from the Broadway musical Grease, which led to this exchange:

Kelly: "Oh, the Grease jackets. We loved Grease. Cal could sing all the songs, even the `Sandy' parts."

Cal: "OK, you can go now."

The orientation visit was relaxed and casual, but it was not just for laughs. The Ripkens will have 325 guests for the induction weekend, so Kelly Ripken made two previous trips to work out accommodations.

"She's always been that way," Cal Ripken said. "She's been the organizer of sorts. That is something she just picked up on. Same as in '95 [the year of setting the consecutive-games record]. She just said, `You have enough to worry about. Let me help.'"

Ripken hasn't written a word of his induction speech, but he said bits and pieces are forming in his mind as he gets closer to July 29 ... and July 29 gets closer to him.

"There is a sense of anticipation, and there's both the desire to savor every minute of it and the feeling of wanting to get it over with," he said. "When the phone call came in January, it seemed like it was miles away, but now the weather is starting to change and it's getting closer. This day was a step in the process."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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