KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It will be special playing before the home crowd, but Cal Ripken said last night that he wasn't thrilled with the circumstances surrounding his election to the American League All-Star team.
"I won't feel good about myself -- but I'll be there," said Ripken, who will start his 10th straight game at shortstop for the AL. "Professionally, I don't feel very good about going when the [batting] numbers aren't very good.
"But, at a time when things haven't been going good for me, I haven't been able to get on track and hit like I want, it's a big boost to know that a lot of people have the confidence in me to want me to start the game."
Ripken indicated that, under different circumstances, he might have considered withdrawing. "I've thought about it," he said. "But the fact that it's in Baltimore, and the way the game is structured, I feel a sense of responsibility and obligation to play.
"The game is structured for the fans and I don't want them to feel that I'd be turning my back on them," said Ripken, whose vote total (2,077,482) was fourth-highest in either league. Although his power numbers -- 10 home runs and 40 RBI -- are more than respectable, his .216 average is well below Ripken's standards and is embarrassing to him.
"That's the bottom line," Ripken said about the votes he attracted. "It is the fans' game. I don't know how it's going to be, I know I don't feel good about it and it might not be as much fun -- butit's still a great experience."
If his continuing national popularity with the fans is a little embarrassing to him now, Ripken says it also is flattering.
And he feels the fact he's been at the same position, and with the same team, throughout his All-Star run has contributed to his popularity.
"Basically when you're playing year-in and year-out with the same team, I think people tend to remember you," he said. "That definitely helps [attract votes].
"Also, since I've been in the league there's been sort of a changing of the guard at shortstop. I came up in the [Robin] Yount, [Alan] Trammell era. Then Robin moved to center field, [Tony] Fernandez and [Ozzie] Guillen came into the picture and Trammell got hurt and started to move around.
"I guess the fact that I've been there through all of that also has a bearing on the voting," said Ripken. "Whatever the reason, it's very flattering. I've been fortunate enough to accomplish some things over the course of my career, and I'm sure that's one of the reasons I was voted in."
While making no apologies, Ripken didn't try to hide the fact that he'd prefer to be playing Tuesday night at Camden Yards under better circumstances.
"I don't feel that I'm not one of the better shortstops in the league; but it has been hard, and it's been frustrating," he said of his first-half offensive struggles.
"But it's not like I'm going to give up and say this is one of those years."
Playing in the All-Star Game at home "will be special," said Ripken,who can only hope it might provide a moment to rival his two most memorable appearances.
"Everything just fell in place in Toronto [two years ago]," he said. "The home run hitting contest -- the game, everything.
"But the most nervous I've ever been in my life was the first time I played [1983 in Chicago's Comiskey Park]. It was a blowout, so there wasn't any pressure, but just knowing that I was playing in an All-Star Game, and realizing what an event I thought it was growing up, made it unforgettable."
Now Ripken is a veteran at this midsummer extravaganza. And his enthusiasm for the event hasn't waned.
Come Tuesday night, Cal Ripken would rather the circumstances be a little different. But, given the alternative, there's still no place he'd rather be than home -- at Oriole Park.