"That was the most powerful thing to me," Ripken said, adding, "it stared at me the whole time."
The unveiling began a string of poignant tributes to the man credited with instilling a code of play as well as representing the underpinning of the organization. Ripken escorted his mother, Vi, from a dais to the Orioles dugout where a plaque was unveiled recognizing his father.
In a way, the gesture may have helped heal old scars. Ripken noted as recently as Friday his disappointment in the manner his father was fired as Orioles manager only six games into the 1988 season. Ripken returned to serve as a coach from 1989 to 1992 under managers Frank Robinson and Johnny Oates.
Words followed from Clinton, a firsthand witness to 2,131; Mayor Martin O'Malley, who renamed Lee Street, which runs south of the stadium, Ripken Way; and baseball commissioner Bud Selig, whose tribute included a newly christened Cal Ripken Jr. Award to be presented to any player who plays all of his team's games in any season.
This time, Jeff Conine threw absurdly wild, causing Ripken to peel off to retrieve the throw from against the stands. When Ripken looked back up, he saw the starting lineup from his first major-league start standing in place of the regulars.
There was Bumbry, Dauer and Singleton; Murray, Roenicke and Dempsey. Scott McGregor stood on the mound, Earl Weaver "managing" just off the foul line. In tribute to the late Mark Belanger, shortstop remained empty, though Belanger's sons were on hand in uniform.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment," Conine said.
The Moment again found Ripken with two outs in the second inning. Facing Red Sox starting pitcher David Cone, he waited one pitch before lining a fly ball to the left-field warning track. Typifying a 2-for-45 slump during which his hardest-hit balls were caught, Troy O'Leary retreated for the catch.
Ripken, a habitual first-strike hacker, took two balls before lashing at Cone's third pitch. When he managed nothing more than a pop to short, Ripken finished his swing with his back to the first base dugout and flipped his bat in disgust over his shoulder.
The last at-bat of Ripken's career - No. 11,551 - began with a standing ovation that caused Cone to retreat from the mound. Ripken acknowledged the reception, mouthed something to himself, exhaled and climbed into the box at 9:48 p.m. Two fastballs missed for balls before Ripken fouled another straight back.
Thousands of flashbulbs caught his last swing, a fly ball to center field that Trot Nixon caught with little effort. A step from first base, Ripken detoured to the dugout. Standing in front of Hargrove, he glanced around himself as if unsure what to do. Finally, he retreated.
And it was over. Or in the spirit of the night, just beginning again.
He ended his abbreviated speech poignantly and simply, saying, "One question I've repeatedly been 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. Thank you."