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Ripken's day arrives

O's great takes his place today in Cooperstown

By Dan Connolly

Sun Reporter

July 29, 2007

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.

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Cal Ripken Jr., baseball's "Iron Man" and heretofore the embodiment of boundless energy, is tired.

Dead tired.

He's running on adrenaline. And he's anxious.

Now that the six-plus months of hype building up to today's 1:30 p.m. Hall of Fame induction is over, Ripken just wants to get through today and get some sleep.

"I guess [there is] a little anxiety that is running a little higher than it normally would run. I feel that," Ripken said yesterday at his final news conference before he officially becomes a Hall of Famer. "I also feel a sense of fatigue that I have never felt before. I think it will be relief after this is all over."

Normally a man in total control, Ripken, wearing a dark suit without a tie and a look of exhaustion on his face, said he has loved being around other Hall of Famers. But he also said the whole process has been "nerve-racking."

"I equate this to either getting married again or having a baby," Ripken said. "There's a ninth-month period in having a baby, and at some point you want to have the baby. You want to say, 'Let's go ... I'm really happy it is here, and now it is time to have the wedding or time to have the baby.'"

He said he's not sure what to expect when he gets up to the podium and a sea of orange and black - Hall officials are estimating the crowds will far exceed the record of 50,000 - begins screaming for him.

"Some of these moments, and I have had one or two, with The Streak and even saying goodbye to the fans [in 2001], that the moment really seems surreal," he said. "It's really not until a week later or two weeks later that you look back and really feel that it is you that played that role."

In contrast, Ripken's fellow inductee, former San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, wore a Nike golf shirt and a baseball cap to the news conference table and said he felt totally at ease.

"Being here and meeting the guys, a calmness has come over me," Gwynn said. "And I'd like to keep it until [after the ceremony], honestly."

Don't be surprised, however, if they switch roles this afternoon.

Ripken, as was his way in his 21 seasons as an Oriole, seems fully prepared for his moment in the Cooperstown sun. He has practiced his speech several times, attempting to stoically get through tough sections, including those about his late father.

"The only worry or concern I have is some of the parts when you are thanking people [you] are closest to, it's pretty emotional," he said. "I am pretty hopeful in the live moment I'll be able to deliver that OK."

Gwynn doesn't have a formal speech written and is going to "speak from the heart." He has all but promised that he will break down.

Yesterday afternoon, the two were hours removed from an 18-hole golf scramble for the Hall of Famers, in which Ripken's group included his brother and son and Gwynn's included his two brothers.

"My brothers and I, it seemed like we saw every part of the golf course," Gwynn said. "And we had a great time."

The golf outing started at 8 a.m., and Ripken said he didn't have much sleep Friday night after a full schedule of appearances. Gwynn's presence next to Ripken, however, seemed to relax him.

They didn't know each other well before January, when the Hall voting results were announced, but they have become close during the induction buildup.

"For me, this has been a blast," Gwynn said. "And I am hoping even after tomorrow we can still have some kind of contact, because he's really one of the best people you'd ever want to meet."

Seeming like old friends, the duo cracked several jokes during the nearly hour-long session.

Ripken's best quip came when he was asked what he hoped he would look like on his Hall of Fame plaque.

"I'd like someone to give me some hair," he said.

Ripken also waxed nostalgic when asked about Orioles umpires attendant Ernie Tyler's decision to come to the induction and end his consecutive home games streak of more than 3,700 games.

Tyler, 83, started the streak on Opening Day 1960.

"There's a little bit of sadness that comes over me that he's choosing to come," Ripken said. "But there's a great sense of happiness inside that he's picking this event to actually do it."

Ripken then joked about his own decision not to tell anyone ahead of time before he stopped his consecutive games streak of 2,632 in 1998.

"Did [Tyler] keep it a secret until 10 minutes before the start of the game?" Ripken asked.

So, yes, even in his fatigued, anxious state, Ripken was trying to have fun yesterday, because today will be an emotional roller coaster. Soon, though, it'll all be over, and Ripken will officially be a Hall of Famer.

Then the Iron Man can recharge.

"Probably Monday or Tuesday, I'll want to sleep for two weeks," he said.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com