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Twenty years after 2,131, Orioles celebrate Cal Ripken Jr.'s 'superhuman' accomplishment

Cal Ripken Jr. kept us all in suspense for the 13 years leading up to the night he broke Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable consecutive-games record, so why should Tuesday night have been any different?

Ripken conceded a few minutes before the 20th anniversary celebration of that moment that he injured his shoulder in a bicycle accident earlier in the day, casting the quality of his ceremonial first pitch in doubt.

"But I'd like to think that [head athletic trainer] Richie Bancells could fix me," he said, "and I would have played no matter what."

Of course, Ripken answered the bell when the moment arrived, just as he did for his 2,131st straight game on Sept. 6, 1995, and would for another 501 games before choosing to end the Streak before the final home game of the 1998 season.

The only concession to the sore shoulder was that he didn't throw off the mound, but he got an enthusiastic standing ovation as he walked out to the field and threw the ball — albeit a bit gingerly — to close friend and former Orioles teammate Brady Anderson.

The stands weren't quite as full this time and there would be no celebratory lap around Camden Yards, but every Orioles fan who is old enough remembers that night and many of them were in the attendance to mark how quickly 20 years can go by.

"He was just an All-American guy who went to work every day, did his job every day," said Chris Horner of Stevensville, " and there were a lot of bad years there when he gave us something to look forward to."

Horner came dressed in a black Ripken jersey and was accompanied by his wife and 2-year-old daughter, whose first name is a tad unusual.

"We named her Rypkin," he said, "but we changed the spelling a little bit."

Kiehl Poffenberger of Columbia is a lifelong Orioles fan who said he attended the first game of the team's inaugural 1954 season in Baltimore and wasn't about to miss the commemoration of Ripken's most memorable milestone.

"He was the only thing there for a long time, as far as I was concerned, through the years of desperation," Poffenberger said.

The Orioles played "2131: Cal's Moment in Time" on the main video board for the hour or so leading up to his introduction, which brought back memories for everyone including Ripken, who admitted to getting a little misty when the camera focused in on his late father and very young children.

"In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday," Ripken said, "but you look at my kids — Rachel is almost 26 and Ryan is 22 — and I guess that the fact that they were 2 and 6 drives home the point that it has been a while. In some ways, it seems like a snap of the fingers, so it's hard to believe it has been 20 years."

Ripken said that his memories of that night always include the unspoken interaction between himself and Cal Ripken Sr. as he acknowledged the seemingly endless ovation that he got from the sellout crowd after the record-breaking game became official in the fifth inning.

"It kind of hit me hard the last week or two," he said. "We lost dad way too early."

Time definitely has not dimmed the glory of his accomplishment, if the comments of fans and former players and current Orioles are any indication.

"Manny [Machado] is [the only player] in the game who has played every game this year," manager Buck Showalter said. "Multiply it times 16. … Trust me, nobody's going to touch it. And it won't be Manny, God bless him. I think Hack Wilson's RBIs in a season, nobody will ever touch it. This one … it just won't [be broken]."

Ripken isn't so sure. He pondered the same question for a few moments and then left open the possibility that someone might come along with the same work ethic, resolve and good fortune that allowed him to become baseball's all-time iron man.

"People say it's an unbreakable record, but I did it," he said. "So, because I did it, somebody else can do it. The set of circumstances and maybe how you evaluate an everyday player now might have changed a little bit, but still there are plenty of guys who can play one season of 162. It's a streak of consecutive seasons playing 162, so a lot of things have to go right and you have to be worthy of being in the lineup, but I don't look at it as an unbreakable record."

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who played in 162 games in 2012 and at least 159 in each of the past three seasons, respectfully disagrees.

"The mental part of it is the remarkable part," Jones said. "There's days when you do need a break. For him to do what he did is nothing short of amazing. That's a record that 100 percent will never be broken. Cal's streak, that could never be touched in today's game."

There were similar testimonials from outside the ballpark.

"The first thing that comes to mind is how difficult it is to be an everyday player, especially at shortstop," former major leaguer and "MLB on TBS" analyst Gary Sheffield said. "I started my career there, and for Cal to play in that many games in a row is superhuman. Everybody deals with aches and pains in their job, even a desk job. So, to be able to overcome the physical toll and be there as a leader for his teammates every day for so many years was just amazing."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

IronBirds to celebrate 2,131 anniversary tonight

The Aberdeen IronBirds will hold their own celebration for the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,131st consecutive game tonight at Ripken Stadium.

The Orioles' short-season Single-A affiliate, which is owned by Ripken, will be giving away a 2,131 bobblehead to the first 1,200 ticketed fans at tonight's 7:05 p.m. game against the Lowell Spinners. Ripken will also be making an appearance at the game and will be honored for breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak on Sept. 6, 1995.

—Josh Land

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