About 90 minutes before the Orioles and Texas Rangers met for the last time this year, Johnny Oates sauntered out to the side of the batting cage for a brief chat with Cal Ripken.
It was a private conversation, but one that had a special meaning for the former Orioles and current Rangers manager.
For most of the past four years, Oates was Ripken's manager. The two years before that, he was a coach, meaning he was around for almost half of The Streak. It would be his last chance to share some thoughts with Ripken before a certain September date of some importance.
"Every time I saw him in Texas [during the All-Star festivities and last week when the Orioles and Rangers played twice] he had a swarm of people around him," said Oates. "I really didn't get to talk to him much at all."
So little, in fact, that word got back to him that Ripken, jokingly, wondered if he was being ignored. "I'll talk to him tonight [last night] and let him know I got the message," said Oates.
After the two talked, for maybe three minutes, Oates was asked what lasting impression Ripken had left on him -- and if his biggest regret in losing the Orioles' job was that he wouldn't be present if Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record is broken Sept. 6.
Oates had no trouble with the first question. "He's the oldest kid I know," said Oates. "And that's a compliment. I know this is kind of hard to understand, but I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Cal Jr. -- and when I was talking to him just now he had that same smirky smile, that little glint in his eye, that he had then. The only difference was, his face was a lot dirtier then.
"I've said this before, but to watch him come into the clubhouse or go on the field, reminds me of when I played Little League. He comes to the park with the same enthusiasm as a Little Leaguer. It's amazing, but he never changes," said Oates.
As for any regrets, Oates characteristically took the positive approach. "This is not only about Cal Jr." he said, choosing his words carefully, "but because of the Orioles I was able to pass through the Ripken world.
"Everybody knows how much Cal Sr. has meant to me. He and his family will always have a special place in my heart."
Now that he's watching from the other side, Oates remains fascinated by Ripken's consecutive-games streak, which reached 2,091 last night.
"It is still unbelievable to me," said Oates, shaking his head at what he has watched the last 6 1/2 years. "But you know what -- the way the game is today, if he had come along a little later, with a different set of parents, I doubt very much if he could've done it."