6, 2001: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles, Camden Yards
it's done nothing else, my inaugural season of presenting this web site has made
me a much more intrepid spectator. Not only did I attend my usual slew of Yankees
games, but I also found time to visit Shea
Stadium and the newest ballpark in the five boroughs, the Brooklyn Cyclones'
brand-new Keyspan Park. Additionally,
with the encouragement and assistance of my girlfriend, I paid a visit to another
brand new ballpark, the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller
Park. So it seemed somewhat fitting, in the dog days of August, to tack on
at least one more East Coast ballpark from which I could do some field reporting.
The most obvious
choice, for a number of reasons, was Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles.
Not only is Baltimore a short day-trip away from the Big Apple, but Camden
Yards (officially, "Oriole Park at Camden Yards," but we'll dispense
with the unwieldiness) is exemplary among the new wave of retro-modern parks.
It made sense, with a loyal Orioles fan among my closest friends, to make a pilgrimage
to Charm City to see Cal Ripken Jr. one final time. So I booked four tickets for
a Sunday afternoon game between the Orioles and the Red Sox on September 16.
Due to the terrorist
attacks on September 11, nearly a week's worth of ballgames were postponed,
our Baltimore game among them. But I could not have anticipated, when it
all shook down and the schedule was reorganized, that the tickets we were
holding would become highly-prized tickets to Ripken's final ballgame ever.
Mostly, I was struck by guilt; I didn't like the feeling that I was somehow
benefitting from the tragic misfortune of the thousands of people who perished
in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. So I set forth
with a plan to auction the tickets and donate the proceeds to charity certainly
a sacrifice we were willing to make in light of the circumstances. But by
the time I was able to place the tickets up for auction, the immediacy of
the gesture had faded, and in the end, we were left holding the tickets
to this historic game. Truth be told, I think we were each somewhat relieved
and excited to be going after all.
I will admit to
having never been Ripken's biggest fan. While I admire his accomplishments The
Streak, his amazing 2632 consecutive games played, 3184 hits, 431 HRs,
19 consecutive All-Star appearances, 2 MVP awards, and a World Championship,
for starters I
rarely found him to be the kind of electrifying ballplayer whose highlights etched
themselves in my memory. Sure, there are a few moments his catch
of a Garry Maddox line drive to end the 1983 World Series, the homer he
night he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record, the first-inning
homer I watched him hit from the fourth row of Yankee Stadium in
September 1997, the night he
finally ended The Streak against the Yankees in September 1998 (and the spontaneous
salute the Yanks gave him, rising to the top step of the dugout with a standing
ovation once the game began), and the homer he lashed off of Chan Ho Park at this
year's All-Star Game. And now that I think about it, those moments DO qualify
him for that "electrifying" category, especially given his ability
to rise to the special occasion with just the right touch. But mostly I'll
remember Ripken for his
sheer presence, his ability to take joy from playing a game for a living
and turn that joy into a solemn compact with baseball fans everywhere.
to enjoy our weekend, we booked a hotel, gathered our maps, and piled into
a Toyota Camry wagon five of us: myself, my girlfriend Andra, Orioles
fan Julia, her husband Eric, and their baby son Owen.
Leaving the city at noon, we reached Baltimore around 4 PM and found our
way to Camden Yards. With festivities set to start at 6 PM, we had plenty
of time to find parking (in a school lot, for $5, the kind of deal you
just don't get here in NYC) and roam around the neighborhood adjacent to
The mood was festive
around Camden Yards. Despite the Orioles dismal showing this year, fans of all
ages were decked out in orange and black, in Orioles caps and replica jerseys
and T-shirts commemorating the occasion. The area around the park was a souvenir-hunter's
paradise. We marveled at the array of merchandise for salenewspaper special
editions, caps, baseball cards, bobblehead dolls, and even commemorative postage
stamps. Vendors at every street corner in the vicinity hawked "essential"
mementos of the occasion, as well as economy-sized bags of ballpark staples; we
held out except for bags of salted peanuts and pistachios. Finding a pub in the
shadow of Camden Yards, we drank pints of Iron Man Pale Ale and sampled some Maryland
crab. The place was bustling as a radio DJ phoned in his on-the-scene report.
We reached the
park around 5:15, less than an hour before the official festivities started. The
crowd was already abuzz inside the stadium. Entering in the vicinity of left field,
we made our way up to our seats to drop off bags of blankets and baby items. Our
tickets turned out to be in the very last row of section 372, Row N (for "Nosebleed"),
almost parallel with the foul pole in left, backed by a chain-link fence. Unburdened,
we ventured around the stadium to Eutaw Street, a wide concourse of food vendors
and other activity which runs between right field and the famous red-brick Warehouse
Building which makes Camden Yards so distinctive.
By this time, the
festivities had started, and a luminous array of speakers, including former
President Bill Clinton, baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Hall of Fame broadcaster
Chuck Thompson, and former Orioles Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Mike
Flanagan, and Eddie Murray took the dais to pay tribute to Ripken. Clinton praised
Ripken as "the kind of man a father would want his son to grow up to be." Selig
announced the creation of an award in Ripken's name which will be given out to
players who play in all of their teams' scheduled games. Baltimore Mayor Martin
O'Malley announced that a street located near Camden Yards would be renamed Ripken
Way. And the late Cal Ripken, Sr., longtime coach and proponent of "The Oriole
Way," was honored with a commemorative plaque unveiled in the Oriole dugout.
During all of this,
Andra and I paid tribute to the stadium's fine cuisine by indulging in barbecued
pork sandwiches from the restaurant of another Oriole legend, Boog Powell. Slathered
in sauce, on a plate with beans and cole slaw, they constitued a meal that was
a far cry from any hot dog I'd eaten in Yankee Stadium this season. Our culinary
bent prevented us from actually watching a good portion of the ceremony (though
we did stop to peek through the rails at Clinton as he spoke), but priorities
are priorities, and looking at Bud Selig at the risk of threatening my appetite
rated pretty low on the list.
to our seats by the end of the presentations, we watched as Vi Ripken, Cal's mother,
threw out the first pitch. As Cal prepared to take the field for his 3001st and
final game, one of my favorite moments of the evening took place. First baseman
Jeff Conine, as is his custom, tossed a ball high into the air for Ripken to chase
down as he ran to his position from the Oriole dugout. But the throw was deliberately
wild, and once Ripken chased it down, he turned his head to find that the starting
lineup from his first major-league start back on August 12, 1981 had taken the
field wearing their old day-glo orange uniforms: catcher Rick Dempsey, first baseman
Eddie Murray, second baseman Rich Dauer, the sons of late shortstop Mark Belanger,
leftfielder Gary Roenicke, centerfielder Al Bumbry, and rightfielder Ken Singleton.
It was a moving tribute, much more so because it caught Ripken off guard.
Once the game
began, it was played with the haste typical of season finale with nothing
at stake for either team. For the Orioles, wallowing in fourth place for
the past five seasons, this was business as usual, but the Red Sox had entertained
postseason hopes until the wheels fell off in the aftermath of manager Jimy
Williams's firing. Absent from their final day's lineup, due to injury or
importunity, were all of Boston's
"name" players Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Carl
Everett, and Jason Varitek. Ironically, one of the few Sox who hadn't totally
tanked the end of the season was on the mound: David Cone, attempting to cap
a solid comeback from a hellish 4-14, 6.91 ERA season. Adding a twist or two
to the story line, Cone was pitching not only his (likely) final game in red
socks, but perhaps his own big league finale.
The Orioles scratched
out a run in the bottom of the first against Cone. Tim Raines Jr. (one of three
Juniors in the O's lineup, besides Ripken Jr. and Jerry Hairston Jr.) walked,
stole second and took third on catcher Joe Oliver's throwing error, and scored
on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Conine. A beautifully manufactured run, just like his
daddy taught him, no doubt. The Red Sox overcame this in the second, teeing off
on rookie pitcher Rick Bauer, scoring two runs on Dante Bichette's home run to
left field (hit while I was mid-tirade about how lousy Bichette is) and loading
the bases before Jose"Awful, man" Offerman grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.
The guest of honor
didn't reach the plate until two outs in the second inning; inexplicably and inexcusably,
Oriole manager Mike Hargrove had elected to bat Ripken seventh on his big night.
As he finally strode to the plate, flashbulbs popped while fans waved their orange
"Thanks Cal" cards, hoping for a miracle (Cal had entered the game in a dreadful
2-for-45 slump). Before the fanfare could die down, Ripken lined Cone's first
pitch to Troy O'Leary in left field for the final out of the inning.
The Sox added
two more runs in the fifth. Oliver singled, then scored on an Offerman homer to
right, again hit while I was in mid-tirade. Cone, meanwhile, mowed down the Orioles,
having allowed only Brady Anderson's double in the second, in which he was thrown
out trying to stretch to a triple. Ripken popped out to shortstop to end the home
half of the fifth.
Cone had faced
only two batters over the minimum through seven innings, but the eighth brought
adventure. Anderson led off with a single to right-center. Ripken, with fans still
persevering for a miracle, flied out to centerfielder Trot Nixon. Undeterred,
48,807 fans, realizing it might be his last at-bat, gave him a standing ovation,
complete with curtain call. Once the drama subsided, the O's threatened to score,
as Geronimo Gil singled and Hairston walked to load the bases. Under most circumstances,
this would have wrapped up Cone's night. But with no one warming up in the Sox
bullpen, he reared back and struck out Raines Jr.
With two outs,
Hargrove then elected to pinch-hit for rightfielder Luis Matos with Tim
Raines Sr., acquired
earlier in the week from the Montreal Expos so that he could join his
son as a teammate. For my money, this was the best baseball moment of the
night: two former teammates who set the tone for the legendary 1998 Yankees
with their professionalism and class; two grizzled vets who knew the amazing
peaks and harrowing valleys of baseball fighting injuries, poor
health, and ineffectiveness in search of redemption. It was simply a delicious
moment, especially with the possibility that both might be playing their
own final games, albeit with considerably less fanfare than Ripken.
Having no genuine
stake in the outcome, I found myself torn, hoping perhaps for a dramatic hit from
Raines but reluctant to sully Cone's masterful performance. In the end, the crafty
pitcher won out. Raines took a ball from Cone, then grounded sharply to shortstop
for a fielder's choice to end the inning. The Sox added another run in the ninth
off of a Lou Merloni single and an Oliver double. And so the teams headed to the
bottom of the inning with the score 5-1 and Ripken due to bat fifth. Would he
get one more shot? The crowd bristled with anticipation as fans wondered aloud.
Ugueth Urbina took
over for Cone and retired Jeff Conine on a fly to right. Chris Richard doubled,
and the crowd tensed. One more batter reaching safely would clinch another at-bat
for their hero. But Urbina struck out Tony Battista, and with two outs, faced
Brady Anderson, himself likely playing in his final game of his 14-year career
as an Oriole. Anderson, suffering through a dismal season just a hair north of
the Mendoza line, worked Urbina to a full count as the crowd reached a fever pitch.
But it wasn't to
be. Anderson swung at a high pitch which would have been ball four, plunging the
Orioles to their 98th defeat and slamming the door shut in Ripken's grimacing
face. Afterwards, Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan was asked if he was tempted to
walk Anderson to give Ripken one final shot. Kerrigan responded, "No, not really.
I think the integrity of the game is what Ripken stands for. When you mess with
the integrity of the game, I don't care what the circumstances are, that's not
what the man over there represents."
crowd nonetheless moved into another celebration of Ripken. The field went dark.
A slide show of Ripken photos was projected against the Warehouse wall, while
Ripken took a lap around the park in a vintage red Corvette, shaking hands with
fans in the first row. The car stopped in left field as he made his way to a microphone
between third base and shortstop. After waiting for the cheering to stop, and
struggling to keep his composure, he
"One question I've
been repeatedly asked these last few weeks is, how do I want to be remembered?
My answer has been simple: To be remembered at all is pretty special. I might
also add that if I am remembered, I hope it's because by living my dream, I was
able to make a difference."
As he gave his
speech, Ripken was joined by legendary Orioles Palmer, Weaver, Robinson (Frank,
not Brooks, who was curiously absent from the proceedings), and Murray. When his
concluded, the lights went out, a giant number 8 was illuminated against the centerfield
ivy, and fireworks were shot off. It was an extravagant sendoff for a player whose
style tended much more towards the workaday, but whose character made him worthy
of such a spectacle. So long, Cal, and thanks for the memories.
Red Sox 5, Orioles 1. Three beers, one pork sandwich from Boog's Barbecue
Pit, several salted peanuts, a nifty set of souvenirs including a commemorative
ticket in a lanyard, a special edition of Orioles Magazine, a nifty copper-embossed
Farewell Commemorative book of photos, and an emotional goodbye to at least
one legendary ballplayer. BOX