Ripken at ease in star light


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cal Ripken prides himself on preparation, and whether he wanted to or not, for the past three months he had been preparing for the big event yesterday -- his All-Star Game news conference to discuss the streak.

In every city he has gone this year, he has answered the same questions again and again. Why he plays every day, whether he knows much about Lou Gehrig, about his future if he surpasses Gehrig's record of 2,130 straight games.

But many of the questions yesterday were about how he's dealing with the attention. Ripken, the Orioles' only All-Star representative this season, generally shies away from the media, and this year -- a time when he has become a symbol of credibility that baseball is so desperately trying to recoup -- he has been thrust into the spotlight.

"I'm surprised and embarrassed sometimes at the attention the streak receives," he said. "Sometimes it makes me embarrassed to receive so much attention every day just for showing up. Maybe it's possible that this year, it's a good thing."

Before the season started, the Orioles talked with Ripken about holding a news conference in each city to talk about the streak, and he was skeptical at first, thinking it a bit presumptuous. He has gone ahead, anyway, and said the group sessions have helped him.

"Ordinarily, you go into a city for three or four games and you come to the ballpark and in the normal relationship with the media, one person or two people might ask you about the streak one day, and the second day somebody else will ask and so on," Ripken said. "By actually putting some organization to it, you talk about it for 10 to 15 minutes on the first day, and then you know the next three days you don't have to talk about the streak."

If Ripken's streak continues and the Orioles don't have any more rainouts, he will pass Gehrig's record on Sept. 6, when the Orioles play host to the California Angels. Team officials intend to issue single-game media passes for Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, to better handle what they expect to be a major crush of media.

"I'm dreading it in a way, and looking forward to it in a way. I'm not looking forward to all the added attention, but I'm looking forward to maybe getting past that point."

Somebody asked Ripken if the stories about the streak have somehow hurt the Orioles. "I'm more fearful this whole process will become distracting to the team," he said. "If I had my way, I prefer to think about this year not as the year I was able to pass a certain record, but as the year we won the World Series or we were able to play in the playoffs.

"I try very hard to keep things normal and not let the attention of the streak affect the team in a negative way. I don't know if I do a very good job of it, but it seems like everything is OK."

The streak has nearly ended at least twice in the past, in 1985, when Ripken sprained his ankle, and in 1993, when he hurt his knee in a brawl with the Seattle Mariners. This year, there have been no such close calls.

"Health-wise, I've been pretty good this year," he said. "I think my own view is whether you play 162 games or 81 games, the way the schedule is and the demands on you on a daily basis, you're going to have some aches and pains. Last year, I thought I had one of my healthiest years, and this year, I haven't fouled too many balls off my foot, I haven't made any horrible slides. This year's been pretty healthy."

Assuming that he surpasses Gehrig's mark, Ripken doesn't know when he'll sit down, and doesn't even like thinking that far ahead.

"Kirby Puckett always jokes with me," Ripken said. "He always asks me, 'How many more days do you have to play before your first off day?' Every time he sees me, he asks me the same question.

"I don't know how I'll react, if and when that happens. I'd like to think I'll go out the next day and approach the day the same way I did before."

Ripken acknowledged that this year, the streak has become "my identity. I've received more attention on it, from the spring training on, this year. No matter where you go, that's the topic of conversation. I'm a little more comfortable talking about certain things, because I'm practicing talking about it.

"It's always there, and maybe I've matured as a person a little bit and I'm not as uptight talking about it. I deal with it a little bit better, and it's more manageable for me than it once was. But make no bones about it, they hear my name or see my face: 'You're the one with all those games, aren't you?' "

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