TEN YEARS ... unbelievable. In many ways, it seems like it was yesterday. That is, until I look at my kids.
Ryan was only 2 years old on Sept. 6, 1995, and Rachel was only 5 and wiping away my kisses. Now, Ryan is 12 and has a great passion for the game, and Rachel is almost 16, 5 feet 11 and beautiful ... and still wiping away my kisses. Actually, Rachel still tells me that she wasn't wiping away my kisses, just my sweat.
To this day, I always talk to people who tell me where they were that night and the great memories they have from Sept. 5 and 6. I guess that coming off the work stoppage, baseball fans were looking for something they could relate to, and I found out that the streak was that something.
So many times I hear from people from all walks of life who never missed a day of work.
They explain how they relate their own experiences to the streak. Those great stories helped make me aware that playing every day was something that was appreciated, and I took great pride in that.
One other streak that gets a lot of attention around town is the streak of Ernie Tyler. Ernie is an amazing guy who runs the umpires room at Oriole Park.
His streak of Orioles games is more than 3,500 dating to 1960! I was happy that my streak brought some attention to Ernie's amazing run.
Looking back on the night of Sept. 6, I consider it the most special "personal" moment of my career. I still have to rank catching the last out of the 1983 World Series as my favorite "baseball" moment.
I remember when the numbers on the warehouse fell and that music started and Raffy and Bobby Bo pushed me down the first base line. At first, I was uncomfortable that we were holding up the game, but as I made my way around the ballpark, shaking hands and seeing familiar faces, I found that I couldn't care less if the game ever started again!
I got to spend time with my teammates, members of the California Angels (that's what they were called back then), the fans and my family. Bill was in the stands that night, along with Kelly and the kids. Mom, Dad, Elly and Fred were up in the skybox. I remember looking up there and seeing them and looking into my dad's eyes. It was a very powerful moment.
Remembering Dad being there always makes me recall how the streak came to be. It really was a lot simpler than people thought. I never set out to break any record or play in all of those games in a row. It was more of an approach.
Dad always taught me that it is my job to show up to the ballpark every day prepared and ready to play and if the manager thinks you are one of the nine guys who can help the team win that day, you do the best you can. So if you think about it, managers like Earl Weaver, Joe Altobelli and Frank Robinson were really responsible for the streak. I just showed up, ready to play.
Looking back, I remember how Frank Robinson once responded to a question about me and the streak. He simply said that he wished he had 24 other guys who he could count on to be there every day. Frank always understood that the game is more than just hitting and fielding. There are many other ways to contribute on a daily basis. In the end, it is all about pulling together to try to win the game that day.
It was always curious to me that there were times when I would have to defend my desire to play every day. Every once in a while a member of the media would say that I was selfish and that I was hurting the team. I never understood why the player who comes up with a mysterious injury so he wouldn't have to face Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens wasn't asked to defend himself. The streak was really about an approach to the game that I learned from my dad, an approach that I always considered pure and honest.
There was really only one time when I questioned that approach, and it involved Rick Sutcliffe back in the early '90s.
During that time, I was in a bad slump and the team wasn't playing well and I was receiving some criticism for the streak. I went to Rick to seek his advice, because he was the only guy on the team who had more experience than I did. I told him that I was thinking about taking a day off. I knew there would have been a lot of media attention surrounding this, but eventually it would calm down and maybe that way things can go back to normal.
Rick listened to me and then said that I could take a day off tomorrow because he was pitching that day (at first I didn't know how to take that).
Then he said that I would sure make the headlines, not on the front page and not on the sports page, but in the obituaries, because he would kill me. Rick was a big guy, and for a minute there I was nervous.
He went on to explain that whether I am hitting at any given time or not, he still valued having me out there every day.
As a pitcher, he appreciated what I brought to the defense behind him and the stability that I represented. Those words meant a lot to me. He told me to stop worrying so much and fix my hitting, and that is what I did. That was the last time I ever questioned my approach.
Today, there are many guys who take pride in being there for their team each and every day.
Hideki Matsui with the Yankees and one of my favorite players, Miguel Tejada, are two such examples. Both of these guys play hard and lay it on the line each and every day. In its simplest terms, that is what it's all about, facing the challenges of the day no matter how difficult they may be.
Last week, I was doing an interview and was asked if I am worried that I will be remembered for just the streak and not my other accomplishments on the field. My response was simple. I said that to be remembered at all is great. The streak came to identify me, and I always viewed that as a positive, so I am not worried in the least that baseball fans will remember me as the guy who played in all those games.
The streak, being able to play for 21 years and playing in my hometown for my favorite team are things that I will remember.
Orioles fans could not have treated me any better during those times.
For me, it was always about playing well and representing the city of Baltimore and the Orioles the best way I could.
Many times we ask ourselves, if we could go back what would we change? I wouldn't change a thing.