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Record broken, Cal serenaded with sounds of stardom


CLEVELAND -- Everywhere he went yesterday, a standing ovation followed. That's the way it is with legends. People will be cheering Cal Ripken for the rest of his career, and probably the rest of his life.

He boarded a 10 a.m. flight to Cleveland, and the passengers stood and applauded. He walked to a 5 p.m. news conference at Jacobs Field, and the ballpark ushers did the same.

Then he played consecutive game No. 2,132, on the night the Cleveland Indians clinched their first postseason appearance in 41 years with a 3-2 victory over the Orioles.

Didn't matter.

Ripken got four standing ovations, anyway.

"It amazes me the effect this whole thing has had on everyone, including myself," Ripken said. "I've been the master of downplaying it. I guess I'm starting to look at it maybe differently now."

How can he not? Ripken was already a superstar before he broke Lou Gehrig's record. Now, he's reaching the most elite level of celebrity, the Elvis-is-in-the-building level, the level in which he is known simply as "Cal."

Ripken might have shunned such attention earlier in his career, but now there's no way around it. The way he figures it, things will never be as crazy as they were in recent weeks. Soon, he might even sleep like a normal person again.

"I can't remember being this tired," Ripken said. "I got some pretty good sleep the last two nights. But I don't know how long it's going to take me to recover fully. The mental part of dealing with it was draining. Now, it's turned into physical exhaustion."

Ripken didn't fly with the Orioles to Cleveland after Thursday's parade in downtown Baltimore. He was so tired, he went home with his family, and fell asleep at 8:30 p.m. next to his daughter Rachel, 5, after reading her bedtime stories.

His wife, Kelly, retrieved him, and he spent the rest of the night in his own bedroom. His only regret? That he couldn't attend a parade in his native Aberdeen after the one in Baltimore.

"I was never expected to go," Ripken said. "But I was really thinking that if I was able to, it would be kind of a surprise. Physically, I couldn't do it."

So, he received a police escort to BWI Airport yesterday and got dropped off on the runway. Ripken emerged from his car, signed autographs for policemen, then posed for a group photo with airline employees, shaking hands with everyone.

The entire plane cheered as Ripken boarded, and spelled out "O-R-I-O-L-E-S" after landing. Ripken stuck his head into the coach section and gave the passengers a thumbs-up, smiling. Another police escort was waiting to take him to his hotel.

The flight, of course, had been full of Orioles fans who bought tickets for this series knowing that a rainout would have forced the record-breaking game to be played in Cleveland.

The Orioles, remember, had a rainout May 11 in Boston, and players on both teams scrambled that day to find a makeup date so that Ripken still could set the record at Camden Yards.

At the time, Ripken couldn't understand the fuss.

"I kept shaking my head, and thinking, 'What's this come to? What's going on?' " Ripken said. "Now, having gone through that, I couldn't imagine it happening anywhere else."

Last night at Jacobs Field? On the night the Indians clinched? The fans would have been appreciative. But there would have been no victory lap, no 22-minute ovation, no fierce display of hometown pride.

Besides, the Indians had other business. They cleared the video and computer equipment out of their clubhouse in anticipation of a champagne celebration. Still, they took time to honor Ripken.

First, they had him exchange lineup cards with Eddie Murray. Ripken grabbed his former teammate's arm playfully. Then crew

chief Rich Garcia shook Ripken's hand and gave him a clenched-fist salute, as if to say, "Way to go."

Next, the Indians played a video tribute to Ripken in the first inning. One scoreboard said, "Thank you Cal Ripken Jr., 2,131," and the video board showed a replay of Ripken's speech Wednesday night at Camden Yards.

"When I got to the big leagues, there was a man, Eddie Murray," the video Ripken said, while the real-life Ripken stood at shortstop. And the crowd at Jacobs Field erupted in cheers the same way the crowd did at Camden Yards.

At the end of the tribute, the Indians moved to the top step of their dugout and joined the crowd in giving Ripken a standing ovation. Ripken tipped his cap and held it high to acknowledge the applause.

The cheers turned to playful boos when Ripken stabbed a line drive by the Indians' first hitter, Kenny Lofton, but the crowd rose again when Ripken led off the Orioles' second, this time after a video tribute set to Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Indians pitcher Orel Hershiser tipped his cap toward home plate. Catcher Sandy Alomar shook Ripken's hand. And in the fifth inning, when the game became official, the crowd saluted Ripken again.

It will be like this the rest of the season, the rest of his career, the rest of his life.

8, Elvis is in the building, wearing No. 8.

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