COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—The Iron Man of preparation knew that an emotional outburst was likely, no matter how many times he had rehearsed his Hall of Fame induction speech.
In fact, Cal Ripken Jr., the Aberdeen boy turned Orioles legend, had identified three "hot spots" he thought might cause him to break down while speaking to a record crowd of approximately 75,000 at yesterday's Hall of Fame induction.
He got through it without a quiver.
"I chose my wording so it wouldn't be so emotional," he said later.
Then it was time to talk about his mom, Vi, who was watching from the first row.
The fans might have saved him on that one - because after his first few words about her, the crowd cheered so loudly that he had to take a momentary and unplanned break.
"Mom," Ripken then continued confidently. "The words are hard to find to let you know how much I love you back."
Two down; one more emotional pitfall remained.
The normally stoic Ripken got one sentence into addressing daughter Rachel, 17, and son Ryan, 14, before it happened.
Hot spot No. 3 was just too much.
"They not only gave me a whole new understanding on life, but they also continue to bring me pride as they ... "
His voice trailed off. He bit his bottom lip and brushed a tear away.
The crowd roared its approval.
Ripken finished his thought: "As they continue to grow and meet life's challenges. I am so proud to stand here today to tell them how much I love and care for them."
He was now past the children reference, but Hot Spot No. 3 also included a tribute to his wife of nearly 20 years, Kelly, or as he said, "the love of my life."
Six words into it, he had to stop again. More emotion, more tears, more applause. But, as Ripken nearly always did during his 21-season career as the Orioles' All-Star shortstop and third baseman, he rallied.
"You didn't know anything about baseball or me when we first met," he said. "But you have led and stood by me and supported me through all the years together. Kelly, I want you to know how much I appreciate your love."
Then he provided the induction ceremony with its only sight gag of the day. He took out a white rose, placed it back in his suit jacket and then said, "Ryan, I might need a little help transporting this."
Ripken's son then took an identical rose out of his own jacket and gave it to his mom while the crowd clapped.
Later, Ripken said he thought of the flower gesture as a way to express his feelings because "I wasn't sure I could say the words."
It was similar, he said, to the way he proposed to Kelly two decades ago. He made a sign out of Christmas lights that said, "Will you marry me?" and then he turned on the switch.
This time, he figured, he would make another gesture and include his son.
"I wanted to create a message that had a lot of meaning," he said. "I had the idea; the only question was whether I could get through it."
Ultimately, it ended up being one of the lightest moments of his speech, along with his opener in which he relayed a story about a 10-year-old kid he recently was instructing at a baseball camp.
The boy grilled him on whether he had played baseball, whom he had played for and what position he had played.
"He began to walk away. He looked back and said, 'Should I know you?'" Ripken said, as the crowd laughed. "That certainly puts all this in perspective."
Perhaps the most surprising part of Ripken's speech was the short list of people he specifically thanked. Former San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, the other 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, spent most of his 28-minute speech detailing his career and thanking a legion of those involved.
But Ripken used his 16 minutes to focus on his message of promoting baseball and providing opportunities for children.
The only people outside his family that he mentioned by name were former Orioles teammates Eddie Murray, John Shelby and Brady Anderson, whom he referred to as "simply my best friend," Orioles athletic trainer Richie Bancells and former coach Jimmy Williams.
He said he couldn't mention everyone who helped him along the way because there were so many, so he chose Murray and Anderson and a couple of less recognizable friends who made a difference in his life and career.
"Jimmy Williams was my Double-A manager," Ripken said. "John 'T-Bone' Shelby probably was a big surprise. A lifelong friend, we started out together and we struggled together and it was really important getting through those periods. ... And Richie Bancells is my lifelong friend, and he was there my first day in pro ball and is still there."
Bancells, for one, seemed touched and surprised by Ripken's words.
"It was overwhelming, really," Bancells said. "When I think about the mention, it's got to be one of the highlights of my career."
But Bancells said the speech overall was what he expected.
"He does things from the heart," he said. "It doesn't surprise me that he had a well-prepared speech with a very strong message. But also it didn't surprise me because it came from the heart. That's him."
In retrospect, Ripken said, his delivery could have used some fine-tuning.
"I thought I sped too much," he said. "I really wanted to make the points. I wanted to speak slower. I wanted to let some of the points sink in. ... I wish I had controlled the emotions well enough to go a little slower. [But] I was happy the overall message got out."
One friend and former teammate, David Segui, chuckled at the idea that Ripken, a consummate perfectionist, wasn't happy with his overall performance.
And even though it's over now, Segui figures Ripken might still work on it to perfect the timing.
"He missed his mark by one minute," Segui said, laughing. "So you know he is going to do it 25 more times on the ride home to get it right."