By Matt Vensel
7:37 PM EDT, September 16, 2011
It was a strange sight at Camden Yards before Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as No. 8 was out on the field in a white Orioles jersey, taking cuts in the batting cage and playing catch with shortstop J.J. Hardy.
No, it wasn’t Cal Ripken Jr., the No. 8 who redefined the shortstop position while playing in 2,632 straight games for the Orioles. It was Alex Ovechkin, the dynamic Washington Capitals left winger who has scored 301 goals in six seasons and twice been named the NHL’s most valuable player.
Some fans on Twitter called it “sacrilege” that the Orioles would allow another man to wear Ripken’s number, which was retired in 2001. But Ovechkin simply borrowed it for one evening as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch in advance of Tuesday’s inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic.
“I don’t want to take his number in baseball. He’s a Hall-of-Famer and he was the best. I’m lucky I got to meet him,” said the Russian superstar, who met Ripken at fundraising event in January. “It’s always so nice when you meet that kind of person and that kind of a star.”
The Capitals, who in recent years have drawn a growing number of Baltimore puck lovers to Washington to rock the red, will host the Nashville Predators in a preseason game Tuesday at 7 p.m. at 1st Mariner Arena. It will be the first professional hockey game played in Baltimore since 1997.
Ovechkin will be the marquee attraction for the Baltimore Hockey Classic, assuming Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau pencils him in the lineup. No NHL player has scored more goals than Ovechkin since he joined the league in 2005, and many have been of the put-that-on-YouTube-immediately variety.
His baseball skills aren’t quite as refined — his first hacks in the cage probably wouldn’t have impressed Ripken — but Ovechkin did hit a couple of balls up the middle during batting practice and he got the first pitch to Hardy (a high one that would have been called ball) in his big moment on the mound before the game.
So when was the last time he threw a baseball?
“It was probably five years ago,” Ovechkin said. “Right now [it feels] different.”
He should be back in his natural element Tuesday, wearing a red No. 8 instead of Orioles’ white.
For ticket information, visit WashingtonCaps.com or 1stMarinerArena.com.
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