One fan waved an orange sign terming Ripken and Gwynn "The Classiest Class."

Tracey Folio said she hoped Ripken's speech would send a message to current players to "get their act together."

She was one of thousands who gave him an ovation when he said, "Whether we like it or not, as big leaguers, we are role models."

After the ceremony, Gwynn said he thought the size of the crowd demonstrated a yearning for more figures such as him and Ripken. Each stayed with one team over a career that spanned at least 20 years, and neither was tied to off-field trouble.

"I think the fans felt comfortable with us, because they could trust us," Gwynn said. "They could trust the way we played the game."

Ripken was more reluctant to analyze the crowd's motivations.

"I think it's about their love of baseball, this outpouring," he said. "It's easy to puff out your chest and say it's all about me, but it's not. To me, it was a symbol that the game is alive and popular and good."

Whatever the reason, fans began to pack the induction site before the sun rose over the foothills surrounding the town. Those who had not set up chairs earlier in the week and did not arrive at 6 a.m. were relegated to perches hundreds of yards from the podium.

"It's like we're in the old bleacher seats where Frank Robinson hit them in Memorial Stadium," Joe Bigalow said from a hill overlooking the induction site.

Bigalow drove from Newark, Del., with his wife, Lori. They had planned to make the trip since the day Ripken retired.

"He's just a class act," Lori Bigalow said.

"He has a working-class mentality," her husband added. "He never has his nose up in the air. He's one of us."

The Bigalows became fans in 1988, despite the 0-21 start to that season. Joe Bigalow can be seen hoisting a "Why Not?" sign in the official souvenir book commemorating Memorial Stadium.

Their neighbor on the hill, Pete Milenkowic, fulfilled a promise to his daughter, Marlena, by bringing her to Ripken's induction.

"I used to be a huge Orioles fan, and he was my favorite player," Marlena, 14, said.

"He was everybody's favorite player," her father said. "He was hard not to like, always signing autographs and all that."

Ready for an encore
Kevin Lowe of Ellicott City sat 300 yards from the stage, behind a tree. He said he didn't mind.

"I just hope he sees on the top of the hill and thinks, 'They're so far away they can't see me, but they're still here,'" Lowe said.

"I'd do this again next week if they held an encore," he added.

Many fans said they had been planning their trips since Ripken retired. Lisa DiSteafano of Kansas City, Mo., said she knew the trip was a basic condition of marrying her husband 15 years ago.

"It's been one of the givens in my life," she said, watching her young children play with a plastic ball at the edge of the crowd.

"I don't mind," DiSteafano said. "Cal is an example for all of us about perseverance, strength and the importance of doing your best every day. He's someone I can really talk to my kids about."

Scott Ray, an engineer from Portland, Ore., said his friends had little interest in flying across the country to see Ripken's induction, but he didn't want to miss it. Despite growing up in Spokane, Wash., he became an Orioles and Ripken fan.

"I grew up playing baseball, and I played shortstop," he said. "And [Ripken] was a great person to try and emulate."

As much as fans loved celebrating Ripken, many acknowledged tinges of regret because he's the last star from the franchise's glory years.

"I'm very saddened," said Kachur, the fan from Bel Air who has attended inductions for Murray, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver, "because this is probably the last time in my life I'll be here to see an Oriole go into the Hall."

childs.walker@baltsun.com