From his love for the game of baseball -- a love he inherited from his father -- to his love for his community, Ripken's generosity hasn't gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Thousands of children have his autograph because he made a point to sign for them, often staying late to do so.
I remember his first game in the big leagues in 1981, and I was in Camden Yards for his last big league at-bat. Everyone can remember the milestones -- the day he hit for the cycle in Texas, his 3,000th hit in Minnesota, his 400th home run in Camden Yards, the night he ended The Streak on a Sunday evening against the New York Yankees and his six-hit night in Atlanta -- but as a partial season-ticket holder, I'll remember the thousands of double plays he made look routine and the key hits that started two-out rallies.
Cal's passion for the game, his respect for his teammates and his love for the fans and the city of Baltimore have made him beloved not only locally, but nationally. And that passion for the game hasn't faded away. He is still imparting his knowledge and his work ethic to thousands of children through his baseball camps, books and radio show.
I had the pleasure of meeting Cal during one of his speaking engagements, and he was gracious, kind and humble. Before the event, we sent a box of memorabilia to be signed, and he signed all of it -- taking special care to ask whether items should be personalized, and matching the color of the Sharpie with the colors on the tickets or photos.
When he realized that I was a huge fan, he shook my hand, spoke to me personally and posed for a picture with me -- I have it framed and prominently displayed among other Ripken mementos in my house.
When baseball fans sit in the stands, they have a certain vision of their hometown stars, but many times, that vision crumbles when they meet those stars in person. I can truly say that Cal is everything I ever envisioned him to be and then some. That special day I met my "sports hero" will be etched in my memory forever.
I will be in Cooperstown the day he is inducted -- a trip I signed up for more than a year ago -- and I'm sure I'll be just one of many who will be holding up a sign saying Thank you Cal.
Baltimoresun.com is looking for Orioles fans to write about their favorite Cal Ripken Jr. memories. Entries can be personal anecdotes, memories of Ripken's top performances or thoughts on what he meant to the Orioles and baseball. Fan articles will be published leading up to Ripken's Hall of Fame induction. Please limit submissions to 700 words maximum. E-mail your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and phone number for verification purposes.