Ripken and Mussina settle into star roles Productivity puts Cal in the swing


Cal Ripken feels better about his presence on the American League All-Star team than he did a week ago. And Mike Mussina is more comfortable in the surroundings the second time around.

The Orioles' only two representatives in baseball's 64th All-Star Game tonight at Camden Yards spent a relaxing day at the ballpark yesterday, a day for stargazing.

"When I was voted in, I was very honored for the support of the fans," said Ripken. "But I felt a little embarrassed coming in with the numbers that I had.

"I spent some time wondering if I should come here [for the All-Star Game]. I thought about it and, with the help of other people, decided that it wouldn't be right not to play. I wouldn't want fans thinking I was turning my back on them."

Since the final votes were tabulated, Ripken's numbers have improved substantially. He comes into the game riding a streak of four multi-hit games.

"Now that I seem to have found a good stroke, I feel better about myself," said Ripken, who will bat seventh in his 10th straight start for the AL. "Everybody that comes here wants to feel deserving based on what he's done in the first half.

"Since last week, I have a better feeling, having been able to hit a few home runs and drive in some runs."

Mussina, who pitched an inning in last year's game, isn't sure when, or if, he'll be used tonight. In typical fashion, he isn't worrying about it.

"I'm looking forward to the game," he said. "It's tough to match the first one -- but then again, this one is here. It's a different feeling -- for one thing, you don't have to travel.

"Now I know what's going to happen and I can go around town and know where I am. I don't have to stay cooped up in a hotel room."

A year ago, Mussina made his All-Star debut under favorable circumstances for a first-timer.

"By the time I got into the game, we were so far ahead, the biggest thing to worry about was not to let them back into the game," said Mussina, 24. "You don't want to be the one to do that."

Mussina is only the second Oriole to be named to the All-Star team in his first two full seasons in the big leagues. Andy Etchebarren did it in 1966 and 1967.

"It helped last year that we all knew we were going to get into the game," said Mussina, who was one of nine pitchers used by manager Tom Kelly. "Hopefully, we can all get in again this year."

Despite Ripken's extensive All-Star experience, the game will be memorable for him because it's being played in his hometown. "I don't know how I'm going to feel tomorrow," he said, "but so far everything has been very exciting.

"Baseball has always been important to the people of Baltimore and we have great fans here. To be able to play here is very special. It's very exciting to be here."

When he was asked what it felt like to see so many children walking around with jerseys that have No. 8 and his name on the back, Ripken, who is 32, said, "It makes me feel like a kid again.

"When I was growing up, all of my idols were baseball players -- some in the minor leagues [when his father was manager] and some in the big leagues. My feeling is that we are in a position to influence, so I try to watch myself and do things in a positive way whenever possible."

Inevitably, the subject of his consecutive game streak, and how it affects him, was introduced to the conversation.

"I consider myself a non-controversial kind of guy," he said with a smile, "but lately it seems like I'm always in the middle of controversy [over his streak].

"It's a bigger issue when I'm not hitting. What I've found out is that if I can fix the hitting, the streak will take care of itself.

"It's never been an issue except when I'm not hitting -- so this year has been a struggle. The way I've always approached my career is that I want to play as much as I can. I don't want to look back and say, 'Maybe I could've done more.'

"I learned from my father a long time ago, that you play as much and as hard as you can, and that's the way I've always been. I'm a little stubborn at times, but that's the decision I made and I have to live with it.

"What I've found out [about controversy over the streak] is that the simplest thing is to work hard and correct the hitting problems. Then I don't have to worry about anything else," said Ripken.

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