I share the same memory that thousands of Orioles fans share: Cal's last game ever.
Baseball had been suspended in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. My friend and I had the 13-game season Sunday ticket package and, as fate would have it, Cal's last game ended up being in Baltimore, a rescheduled game from the week of the attacks.
The level of emotion in the stadium was tremendous. Even if you'd never been to Camden Yards before, you knew that night something huge was happening. There were a lot of Sunday "regulars" in our section, and we all talked about Cal, The Streak, what he'd done for the game and how much he meant to baseball, the community and the fans.
I am not ashamed to admit that I started crying the second he took the field for pre-game ceremonies and didn't stop until about halfway through the first inning. My love for the Orioles lives on because I was brought up a Cal Ripken, Jr. fan. And even though I live in Atlanta now, I was at the game on July 24 (with my parents) to once again pay homage to one of baseball's greatest players and one of Baltimore's greatest men.
My favorite memory of Cal was when he first came to the Orioles and played at Memorial Stadium. My son, who was seven at the time, liked staying after the game to get autographs, and one night he wanted to get another autograph from Cal. We waited patiently, and when Cal came out he recognized me (as I worked for his family's doctor) and asked if we could wait. Cal then gave my son his gym bag to hold. Well there he was, this little guy holding Cal's bag while all the other kids got their autographs and stood around wondering what made this kid so special that Cal would give him the honor of watching his stuff. My son just swelled with pride as he waited, and when Cal finished with the other kids, he put his arm around my son, and they walked and talked about the game all the way to our car (we got an Iron Man escort). To me, that went above and beyond what he had to do, but it was the type of man his parents had raised.
[Gilly A. McNamara]
As a 26-year-old man who grew up in Baltimore, I remember many moments involving Cal.
I remember walking down to my friend's basement when I was seven and seeing the big poster with height measurements and Cal with his milk mustache staring down at me, smiling.
I remember seeing Cal give autographs after games for great lengths of time and being overwhelmed with the excitement of possibly getting yet another Cal Ripken autograph. I remember once having the opportunity to be in the tunnel underneath Camden Yards where the players walk out from the locker room, waiting patiently and slightly intimidated to ask players for autographs. As I approached him when he was standing next to Brady Anderson, he simply took the ball, smiled, and said, "All you have to do is ask."
I remember going to game after game during the summer he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record, seeing those numbers peel off the warehouse, counting down the days to baseball immortality.
I also remember having the great opportunity to witness Cal tie Gehrig, thanks to my aunt and uncle's season tickets. That was a game I'll never forget. I've been to many games at Memorial Stadium, Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, NCAA tournament finals and other games around the country. Never in my life have I felt the good-natured emotion that welled up in that stadium; even as a kid, I could sense it was beyond measurement. It was inspiring, it was beautiful, and it was moving. It was the kind of thing that makes you appreciate what the human spirit has to offer.
Thank you, Cal.
I was 12 years old, making my first trip to spring training after the strike-shortened 1994 season. I noticed a huge crowd gathering at the fence on the first-base side. My dad said Cal Ripken was signing autographs. He suggested I go over and try to get one. With a baseball in hand, I went over but wasn't too optimistic as there were probably well over 100 people in front of me (most of which were much bigger and older than I was). I eventually made my way to the front but was getting pushed up against the fence by others behind me, and I wasn't tall enough to reach over the fence to hand the ball to Cal. Cal noticed that I was pinned and immediately ordered that everybody stop, saying he wouldn't sign any more autographs until everyone gave me some space. Reluctantly, they did, and Cal proceeded to give me my first autographed baseball. That's the kind of guy Cal Ripken was.
I have been an Orioles fan since the 1960s. Cal Ripken was my favorite Oriole when he came along, and I think he is my all-time favorite Oriole. We always seek heroism from our athletes, and Ripken seemed to be the stuff of which heroes are made. He played the game with grace and courage, and he played when injured. He treated people with respect and dignity and seemed to be just what the sport needed at a time when too many athletes were great disappointments, especially off the playing field. Always, I think, we want our athletes to be good at life as well as great at their sport, and Ripken seemed to embody that. He was a refreshing reminder that such things are possible.
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 email@example.com and include your name and phone number for verification purposes.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun