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      F I E L D  T R I P S

NOVEMBER 27, 2001

October 6, 2001: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles, Camden Yards
Farewell, Cal

If 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 hit the 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.

So, determined 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 park.

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 sale—newspaper 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.

Finally returning 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."

The disappointed 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 spoke:

"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.

Final Score: 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 SCORE




Coverage of Ripken's finale