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Me, Dad and Cal Ripken Jr.: My hero stood outside the gate | READER COMMENTARY

Orioles columnist Dan Connolly talks with Cal Ripken Jr. about the significance of his streak of 2,131 consecutive games played, 20 years later. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Your coverage of the 25th anniversary of Cal breaking Lou Gehrig’s streak particularly struck a chord with me (“Can anyone ever match Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive games streak? He might be the only one who thinks so,” Sept. 6) and I thought your readers would appreciate my personal story. The older I get, the more I realize that the hero of my story isn’t my childhood hero, Cal Ripken Jr., but my lifelong hero, my dad.

I was a sophomore in high school in McLean, Virginia, when Cal was about to break the streak. I’m a lifelong O’s fan. The day that Cal was going to break the streak, I was in my room stressing about preparing for Spanish class. My dad popped in and asked if I wanted to head up to Baltimore to just experience the atmosphere that night. I initially said no. It was a school night, we didn’t have tickets, and I was worried about being ready for class the next day. But Dad persisted. So next thing I knew we were on Interstate 95 headed up to Baltimore.

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The atmosphere at Camden Yards was absolutely electric that night. It was that rare, if not completely unprecedented evening when those in attendance were guaranteed to witness history — a record that will almost certainly never be broken. And that evening was the culmination of a decade and a half of buildup. I mean, both the nation’s president and vice president were in attendance. How did they get the Secret Service to go along with that even pre-9/11? And, as you may remember, it was pretty much impossible to get a ticket for under $1,000. In sum, it’s hard to exaggerate what a big deal getting into that ballpark was. And my dad and I didn’t even consider getting in. We were just happy to be up there soaking it all in.

At some point, my dad and I found ourselves just outside the Eutaw Street gates watching the crowds inside the stadium and trying to sneak peaks of the scoreboard and anything else we could see. Just a massive crowd on our side of the gate with people yelling offers to buy any spare tickets at the people inside. Obviously, no one was having any luck.

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But then, around maybe the third inning, some guy inside the stadium walks up to the gates, stands right in front of us and yells at the crowd: "Does anyone have a roll of film?”

Stupid question, right? Who would bring a camera, let alone a roll of film, to an event he didn’t even have a ticket for? I’ll tell you who would: my dad.

So Dad calls out, “I do!” The guy inside the stadium says, “My buddy couldn’t make it today and I have a spare ticket. I’ll trade it for a roll of film.” Dad pulls a roll of film out of his camera bag and hands it to the guy through the gates. Guy gives Dad the ticket. Dad gives the ticket to me and says, “Go.”

Next thing I knew I’m inside Camden Yards. A few minutes after I get to my seat in the outfield, Cal comes to the plate and the entire stadium buzzes and rises in anticipation. Thousands of flash bulbs pop with every pitch. And then Cal gets a hold of one and sends it into the left field bleachers and — I’m not kidding, I’m getting goose bumps just typing this — I instinctively run from my seat to the gates on Eutaw because, then as now, the first thing I do whenever something amazing happens is I want to talk to my dad.

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I get to the gates and say, “Did you hear that?” He says, “Yes! Amazing! Now stop talking to me and get back in there!” But first he empties his wallet and tells me to buy every souvenir I can find because, clearly, he hadn’t done enough for me that night already.

The rest of the night was just a blur. I remember Cal taking that lap around the stadium and shaking every hand he could because if he hadn’t done something, I’m pretty sure we’d still be standing in Camden Yards cheering and chanting his name. I remember seeing the banner on the warehouse go from “2130” to “2131.” But, honestly, it’s just a blur.

And, yes, Dad spent the entire night waiting outside the stadium on Eutaw Street. I asked if he was bored. He said the same thing that night that he says to this day — it was a magical, unforgettable evening for him, one of his best.

Syd Gernstein, Arlington, Virginia

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