An hour before last night's game at Camden Yards, Cal Ripken walked away from a TV interview and spotted a couple of longtime season-ticket holders behind home plate.
He hopped the guardrail and went into the stands, just three old friends sharing a private moment. It lasted less than a minute.Suddenly, Ripken was surrounded by about 200 fans and autograph seekers wanting to again get a piece of the Orioles legend on the 10-year anniversary of the most celebrated night of his career.
"I thought it was safe," Ripken joked.
For 15 minutes, he signed baseballs, T-shirts and scorecards -- and didn't mind. "Based on my minor league business experience," Ripken added, "sometimes it is good to create a little ruckus in the stands."
Thirty minutes after Ripken escaped the throng, the Orioles held a pre-game ceremony to officially recognize the greatest ruckus in the history of Camden Yards -- Sept. 6, 1995 -- when Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game to break the record held by Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig.
Ripken, dressed in a dark suit jacket and slacks and a black T-shirt, received a spirited standing ovation from the small crowd -- a cheer that was about 21 minutes shorter than his famous 22-minute celebration of the record-breaker.
Sitting on the field with his family, including his wife, mother and two children, Ripken cracked a few jokes and attempted to again kiss his daughter, Rachel. Ten years ago, when she was 5, she wiped away the kiss on national TV because her father was sweaty. This time she put her hand up and pushed her dad's face away.
"I try to embarrass her every chance I get," said Ripken, who ended the streak at 2,632 games in 1998 and retired in 2001.
The current Orioles watched the ceremony from the top step of the dugout and several Toronto Blue Jays, who had been running in the outfield, stopped to take it all in.
"I fulfilled a dream. All the kids I deal with on a daily basis down in Aberdeen and all across the country have a singular dream and that's to be a big league ballplayer," Ripken told the fans. "I had the same dream and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity and the talent to make it to the big leagues. I wish I could have played for another 3,000 games."
Before the 15-minute pre-game ceremony ended, Ripken threw out the game's first pitch to Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, the current major league leader with 894 consecutive games played.
If he continued to play every game, Tejada wouldn't approach Ripken's streak until 2016. Tejada reiterated he had no interest in challenging the record.
Ripken returned to the field in the middle of the fifth -- when the game was official.
He walked toward home plate as John Tesh's "Day One" played over the sound system and the video scoreboard showed clips of the fifth inning 10 years ago -- when that game officially went into the record books.
Then the banner on the B&O warehouse was unfurled to reveal No. 2,131. Black and orange balloons flew out of the warehouse as confetti flickered above right field.
This time, though, Ripken did not try to re-create his victory lap around the perimeter of the stadium. He shook the hand of Toronto catcher and former Orioles teammate Gregg Zaun and then waved to the stands.
Again, the Orioles were on the top step of the dugout and third baseman Melvin Mora, who was in the on-deck circle, took off his batting helmet and clapped.
The announced crowd of 20,729 remained on its feet for about a minute -- a small but spirited group.
Ripken said he wasn't disappointed by the meager showing on a night that was heavily marketed by the Orioles.
"Disappointing? No," Ripken said. "I didn't look at it that way at all. People that were there in the ballpark were very much into it, and they laughed at a couple of my jokes. ... My expectations were not a full house."
Orioles fans that showed last night, however, were not happy about a half-full Camden Yards.
"I think it is really disappointing. When you talk about Baltimore baseball you think of Cal," said Scott Johnson, 25, of Windsor Mills who was wearing a 2,131 T-shirt. "For 10 years everybody still talks about the streak and still talks about Cal and for only [20,000] people to be here, it should really throw a wakeup call into the organization."
Joe Timon, 46, of Bowie said he stopped coming to Orioles games after the team failed to sign Mike Mussina after the 2000 season. He said he has become a New York Yankees fan and blames Orioles owner Peter Angelos for not building a competitive team.
"I used to come all the time, but I am not an Angelos fan," said Timon, wearing a Ripken shirt and hat. "I haven't worn my Orioles stuff since Angelos started doing all that with Mussina. But I am still a Cal fan."
Ken Dill, a lifelong Orioles fan, said he, too, is unhappy with the Orioles' perceived lack of direction during eight years of losing.
But that's almost why he was in attendance last night, summing up what a lot of Baltimore baseball fans believe these days. He wanted to relive the memory of Sept. 6, 1995, and thank Ripken once more.
"I probably watch the commemorative Ripken tape at least once a year when I am feeling a little blue, because that night was such an uplifting thing to watch," Dill said. "Especially since nothing much good has happened since."