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Rays starter Shane McClanahan ‘worshipped’ Cal Ripken Jr. He’ll face the Orioles where that admiration was founded.

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan grew up with a lifesize Cal Ripken Jr. poster on his bedroom wall. Saturday, when he takes the mound at Camden Yards for the first time, he just might see his boyhood hero beyond the backstop.

McClanahan, 24, was born in Baltimore, and although his family moved to Florida when he was 5, he maintained a love for the Orioles — and for Ripken, a franchise icon who has seats behind home plate at Camden Yards and very well could take in McClanahan’s start from there Saturday.

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“I’m gonna go out there and pitch regardless,” McClanahan said while standing in the visitor’s dugout at Oriole Park, “but it’d be definitely sick to have the guy that you worshipped growing up be at the game, even though he’s not rooting for you.”

Despite the 6-foot-4 milk ad that adorned his wall and his visits as a boy to Camden Yards, McClanahan has never met Ripken; he saw the Iron Man while out at dinner once, but his father said not to interrupt Ripken’s time with his family.

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Born in 1997, McClanahan’s memories of Ripken all come after his record streak of consecutive games played. But fittingly for any boy born or raised in Baltimore at that time or a decade-plus earlier, he speaks of Ripken with great reverence.

“I’ve always just known Cal to be my favorite player,” McClanahan said. “There’s not a specific memory where, like, ‘This guy is my favorite.’ It’s just always been like that. The way he went about his business off the field, on the field, I feel like that’s something a lot of players should emulate. He did everything the right way and he busted his tail throughout his career. He’s the Iron Man. His career has something special.”

Although Saturday’s outing will be his first in Baltimore, he faced the Orioles last month, holding them to one run in five innings while striking out seven. Even after though he left Baltimore as a child, the team stayed his No. 1 rooting interest.

“Through thick and thin, though the good and bad, I remained an Orioles fan,” McClanahan said.

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Tampa Bay Rays starter Shane McClanahan, delivering a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 9, grew up an Orioles fan as his favorite player was Cal Ripken Jr.
Tampa Bay Rays starter Shane McClanahan, delivering a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 9, grew up an Orioles fan as his favorite player was Cal Ripken Jr. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images North America/TNS)

That fandom faded some after the Rays, who share the American League East with the Orioles, drafted him 31st overall in 2018 out of the University of South Florida. As Tampa Bay pushed for a World Series title last season, McClanahan became the first pitcher to make his major league debut in the postseason, working out of the Rays’ bullpen.

He’s been a member of their rotation since late April, posting a 3.74 ERA in 16 starts. In his past four starts — a span that includes his matchup with Baltimore — McClanahan has a 2.57 ERA.

He could give his former favorite team fits for years to come. He’s the hardest-throwing left-handed starter in baseball, part of a deep Rays pitching staff that can attack opponents in various ways. The Orioles are 1-9 against the AL East leaders thus far this season.

Before Saturday’s game, McClanahan plans to stop by his boyhood home, where that Ripken poster used to be on the wall. Friday, he went to Miss Shirley’s Cafe with his teammates. He admits he hasn’t been to Baltimore much since his family moved away, but still, “I love this city,” he said.

An uncle and some other family will be in attendance for his start, even if Ripken might not be.

“I was a little young, so I don’t have the best memory, but I do remember coming here watching my favorite player of all-time Cal Ripken play,” McClanahan said. “It’s pretty cool to be back and eventually pitch in this stadium.”

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