Cal Ripken

The swing: Cal Ripken leads off the third inning with a first-pitch home run off National League pitcher Chan Ho Park, making the O's Iron Man the oldest All-Star to hit a home run. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / July 11, 2001)

SEATTLE - The Safeco Field crowd stood at 6:19 p.m., almost too late to force Cal Ripken from the batter's box to acknowledge its welcome as he led off the third inning of a scoreless All-Star Game.

A tip of his helmet, a wave of the bat. Then a swing.

On the first All-Star pitch by Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Chan Ho Park - a fastball that drifted toward the middle of the plate - 40-year-old Ripken turned on the mistake with a 22-year-old's hands. And suddenly a balding man who slipped into the game with the least impressive numbers of any All-Star was running and watching while his line drive hooked toward the spectacularly improbable.

Ripken, defined almost as much by his flair for the dramatic as by his endurance during a 21-year Hall of Fame career, had become the oldest man to homer in an All-Star Game. At 40 years, 10 months and 10 days, he bettered Stan Musial by more than a year.

Even more, Ripken had elevated an Event with a Moment.

Only 82 days shy of retirement, Ripken earned his second All-Star Game MVP, the first American League player to do so.

"I think we appreciate everything a whole lot more at the end," Ripken said, minutes after the last out.

The home run over Safeco's left-field fence was Ripken's first since June 16 in Philadelphia. It was Ripken's second in 19 All-Star appearances; the other came in 1991, when he was named the game's Most Valuable Player in Toronto. Ripken's All-Star career ends with a .265 batting average, two home runs and eight RBIs. An unexpected position switch enabled him to break a tie with Ozzie Smith for most All-Star starts at shortstop (14).

On Monday, honorary All-Star Tony Gwynn noted how this game could make a man swing a bat 100 mph. For Ripken, it not only speeded up his bat, but lightened his shoes; his home run trot more closely resembled a sprint.

"I swung and made good contact. The ball went out of the ballpark. And I felt like I was flying around the bases," he said.

As he returned to the American League dugout, Ripken was greeted by men he plays against every other day of the season. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre beamed while his bench coach, Don Zimmer, smiled so broadly his eyes became slits.

"I still have a shot of adrenaline or a long case of goose bumps," Ripken said during the sixth inning of a game completed before sunset. "Coming to the plate, I was excited. I was a little worried about the shadows. I was in the cage swinging hard trying to get ready. I went up there thinking, 'Gosh, it's hard to see. Let's keep things short and put things in play.'

"I came out and tried to acknowledge them [the fans] very quickly, because I didn't want the game to be delayed for that. I got back in, saw the first pitch and swung at it."

It was 6:20 p.m., and Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez was ready to step into the box. Almost too slowly, Safeco Field again rose. Seconds passed.

Rodriguez, who had agreed to bat behind Ripken as a show of respect, stepped out. And Ripken, with his sense of the moment, was again out of the dugout with his helmet held high.

The All-Star Game is an increasingly contrived event for the game's network masters. Those wanting confrontation anticipated New York Yankees pitcher and American League starter Roger Clemens facing New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the third act of their much-hyped feud. The rematch became a footnote on Piazza's fly ball to right.

On his 48th All-Star at-bat, Ripken tore away all the hype to leave the 47,364 fans with something of significance. Ripken's season, so far a series of small letters, question marks and a single exclamation uttered on June 19, suddenly stood tall.

"It's like a dream come true," said Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa. "Everybody was on his feet and clapping, and, after that, he came in with the home run. ... That's amazing. He is The Man."

With the American League still leading 1-0 on the strength of his home run, Ripken returned for his second plate appearance in the fifth with one out and Jason Giambi at second base. Facing Colorado Rockies left-hander Mike Hampton this time, Ripken was met by a former teammate, Florida Marlins catcher Charles Johnson. He answered the catcher's greeting by tapping his bat on Johnson's shinguard.