My buddy, Will B. Humble, and I were trying to invent new ways to praise Cal Ripken Jr., which isn't easy since writers and broadcasters everywhere seem determined to outdo each other heaping superlatives on the baseball star.
Ripken, of course, is the shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles who is expected tomorrow to set the major league record for consecutive games played. The Streak (and the word must be capitalized) now stands at 2,129 consecutive games before tonight's contest. The record was set by Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees.
No doubt, this Streak is a fine achievement -- though not as laudable as the achievements of the dozens of Baltimore school children who graduate each year with a perfect attendance record. But as usual, folks have blown things way out of proportion.
School children get a framed certificate and polite applause for their accomplishments. Sports figures, however, get transformed into larger-than-life super heroes, with fame and fortune and interviews on "Good Morning America."
Talented school children usually grow up, become responsible adults and go on to make their family and friends proud of them. Sports heroes almost always seem to let us down.
When, oh Lord, will we ever learn?
Still, it gets lonely in Sanity Land so Humble and I decided to get on the bandwagon. Even the President of the United States has said he wants to be on hand when Cal takes the field for game number 2,131. Well why not? What could be more important?
Humble and I were nursing a couple of beers at the Old Briar Patch, our favorite watering hole. I got out some paper and a pen and prepared to take notes. I figured we could submit our compliments for publication on the the All Praises For Cal Ripken Page at the local newspaper. Or we could post them on the Internet.
"You go first, Humble, my man," I said, pen poised.
"Ripken," said Humble reverently, "is God."
"No, Humble," I said patiently. "You can't just come out and say Ripken is God. That's going too far. The idea is to worship him with subtlety."
"OK," said Humble after thinking it over for a few moments. "Ripken is god-like."
I put my pen away. "If you aren't going to do this right, it's better not to do it at all."
"Good grief," exclaimed Humble. "Whattaya want me to say?"
"Well, you could start by talking about the great strength of character it takes to play in 2,131 consecutive games. The courage. The commitment. The purity of soul. The clarity of vision."
"We could compare him to the Knights of the Round Table," said Humble. "We could call him the Sir Lancelot of Baltimore."
"Sir Lancelot was an adulterer," I said sternly. "Call Ripken Sir Galahad, instead. He was perfect."
"We could talk about how Ripken is an inspiration to his teammates," said Humble. "We could say he is the Noblest Oriole of Them All. Or how about, the Bird to End All Birds?"
"Ripken is an inspiration to everyone," I said solemnly. "We could call him the Martin Luther King Jr. of Baseball; the Mahatma Gandhi of Camden Yards."
"Hmm," said Humble thoughtfully. "We probably don't want to make him sound too high-and-mighty, though. People prefer their heroes down to earth."
"You're right. And Ripken is the most humble guy who ever lived. He's like the boy next door."
"Maybe we could get Ripken's childhood buddies to recall the first time they realized he was destined for greatness," suggested Humble.
"That's been done already," I said.
"Maybe we could go out into the streets and ask everyday people how the Streak will transform their lives."
"That's probably being done even as we speak," I said.
I could see Humble wrestling with his conscience. "Don't you think people might be making too much of this?" he asked. "I mean, it's not as if Ripken was going to end world hunger tomorrow."
I laid a gentle hand upon Humble's shoulder. "Don't be so sure about that," I told him. "Look at what happened after Lou Gehrig set his record in 1939. The world has been a better place ever since."
Right? Yeah, right.