Fans, but skeptics, too
Cathy Helowicz, a children's author from Pasadena and lifelong Orioles fan, was in one of the special event-only seats along the left-field foul line. She grabbed Ripken's hand during his lap, something she'll never forget.

"You were so happy for him, you just wanted to touch him, or wanted him to touch you," she said. "Being a part of that moment was really special. It was just one of the true Baltimore moments that just won't happen again."

Not everyone bought into the spirit sanctity of the evening, however.

"I'm wary of most stuff like that," said Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter David Halberstam. "Less and less is spontaneous in the world of sports, and more and more every aspect of sports is orchestrated because people know the camera will be around and will do for the camera what the camera wants them to do."

Halberstam, whose Summer of '49 chronicled the 1949 American League pennant race and is one of baseball's finest historical books, lumps most modern-day sporting feats into one unappealing sector.

"I don't think too much about these records," he said. "They are over-promoted because ESPN has the technology to do it and to switch back and forth and show it live. So I don't get caught up in it."

Still, Halberstam respects Ripken's fortitude in playing 2,632 consecutive games.

"The way he went out and would do it every night and would do it when he felt [awful] is what it means in being a professional. He seems to me to be the embodiment of that," Halberstam said.

"As much as the celebration struck me as inauthentic, what he did [to earn the record] struck me as authentic." Halberstam added.

For Will, that night at Camden Yards exemplified baseball's elegance - from the dropping of the numbers on the B&O warehouse to the reaction of the opponents.

"The Orioles presented it beautifully. The Angels did their bit by graciously coming up on the top of the dugout steps," Will said. "It was a nice illustration of the civilities of baseball. You don't have moments like that in the NFL."

Bert Sugar, the longtime sportswriter, boxing expert and author who has written more than a dozen baseball books, said that night at Camden Yards was "an event and Cal Ripken helped make it an event by reaching out and touching the fans literally and figuratively."

Sugar, a Maryland alumnus, called Ripken's lap "one of the nicest things I have ever seen."

Just a sweet moment?
But don't say it is one of the most important records in baseball or sports history, Sugar warns. Once the sweet moment passed, America moved on.

"It's not one of those records that logs in our memory," Sugar said. "We all know he broke a record, and we all can name it. But what is the record now?

"I'm not taking anything away from Cal Ripken, but if he had not played another game after 2,131, it would have gone as unnoticed as his next 500 games."

Sugar said the number 2,632 means little in the sports lexicon.

That's partially because Ripken passed a bigger-than-life American hero in Gehrig, Sugar said. No matter how many more games Ripken played consecutively, he would always share the limelight with Gehrig, the way Hank Aaron shares the home run record with Babe Ruth and Pete Rose shares the hits record with Ty Cobb.