I was at Camden Yards that glorious night in 1995 when the 2,131 banner was raised.
I was in the stadium the night Cal played his final game.
But what I will always treasure most about Cal's career was the night that I joined the throng of autograph seekers crowding around the Orioles' dugout prior to a game in the summer of 1998.
I can't tell you who the Orioles were playing or how Cal did that day. But what I will never forget is the gleam in my daughter's eyes when Cal made her black Orioles visor the last item he signed before heading back to the dugout.
My daughter was 18 at the time, and while my only child was born and raised in South Carolina, she was (through every fault of my own) an admirer of Cal. I grew up in Dundalk, and while college took me down south, the black and orange in my blood never faded. When my daughter was born, as soon as she could walk, I had her spelling O-R-I-O-L-E-S in the familiar Wild Bill Hagy style, with her tiny arms and legs accurately shaping each letter.
Every step in her life was another stage in her Orioles brainwashing. She knew to start chanting "Eddie, Eddie," when No. 33 came to bat, and when Eddie Murray left, Cal became her favorite Oriole.
When she got her first tee ball shirt, the first thing I did was put No. 8 on the back. The first thing she did, at age five, was ask her coach if she could play shortstop. When she got old enough to use a real glove, I dished out 50 dollars for a Cal Ripken model. The day she decided to walk on to the college softball team at Winthrop University, the odds were against her. She stood at only 4 feet 10, and at first the coach suggested intramurals would be a better option. But she carried three invaluable things with her -- a good dose of speed, her Ripken glove, and most importantly, her Orioles visor with Cal's signature under the bill.
It looked bleak the day we jumped in trying to get Cal to sign her visor. But a bit of shoving and an innocent dose of dishonesty got the job done. Cal kept looking at his watch and glancing back at the dugout, and we were still a few people away from the spot along the railing where he was signing.
"Hey Cal," I screamed out. "It's my daughter's 16th birthday, and we drove 500 miles so she could get you to sign her Orioles hat."
Actually, it was her 18th birthday, but 16 had a more sentimental sound to it, and knowing that Cal had a daughter himself, I was hoping it might pluck at his heartstrings.
"Show me where she is," Cal answered.
It worked. I pushed her up, and Cal had a question for her.
"What's your name?" he asked with genuine interest.
She answered as he grabbed his Sharpie and inscribed on the bill of her visor: Teresa, Happy 16th, Cal Ripken Jr.
At that point, we could have jumped in the car and headed home. The signature on that visor, which went along with her to every college softball practice, inspired an attitude that helped her make the team at Winthrop. In her first two years, she was mostly used as a pinch runner, but by her senior year, she was starting in the outfield and was voted the team's captain.
On the night she played her final college game, I walked out to her spot in right field when the game ended and told her I considered it as much of an honor to have watched her play as it had been to watch Cal play for the Orioles. There were tears flowing from both of our eyes, and when I looked down upon her head, I noticed she had done something special for her final game. Resting around her head was the Orioles visor with Cal's signature, faded with four years of dirt and sweat, but shining as a glorious reminder of the standards of persistence and determination that Cal personifies.
Baltimoresun.com is looking for Orioles fans to write about their favorite Cal Ripken Jr. memories. Entries can be personal anecdotes, memories of Ripken's top performances or thoughts on what he meant to the Orioles and baseball. Fan articles will be published leading up to Ripken's Hall of Fame induction. Please limit submissions to 700 words maximum. E-mail your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and phone number for verification purposes.