Cal Ripken Jr. was never big on self-promotion as a Hall of Fame player for the Orioles and though his name is now attached to a stadium in Aberdeen, a street outside of Camden Yards and a youth baseball league, he is still not one to remind anyone of his greatest career achievement.
The 15th anniversary of that achievement — breaking Lou Gehrig's legendary streak of 2,130 straight games — was marked before Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays with Ripken, who recently turned 50, throwing a perfect strike from the pitcher's mound to Orioles utility player Jake Fox.
It was 15 years ago Monday that Ripken broke Gehrig's streak, Baltimore's Iron Man passing New York's Iron Horse.
"It seems like time has gone by really, really fast," Ripken told reporters in the press box after Sunday's ceremony. "I only realize it when I look at the age of my kids. In many other ways, it seems like the whole night that happened out here is just a couple of years ago. But 15 years? We all get old. Time goes by much faster when you leave the game then when you play it."
But the memories of that night against the California Angels , highlighted by Ripken's impromptu victory lap around the stadium high-fiving with fans, remain.
"I have a special memory, a special feel of it from inside my spikes," Ripken said. "It was a wonderful human moment, a wonderful family moment, a great baseball moment. But I guess the farther you get removed from it, in some ways it feels like maybe it wasn't you who did.
Though it seems doubtful that anyone will ever break Ripken's record, the man who played every game for 16 straight seasons in a 21-year career thinks it can be done.
"I sit inside my own shoes and say, 'If I can do it, certainly somebody else can'," Ripken said. "Somebody else can come along with grit and determination to go out and play every day. It's not much different playing 162 or playing 158 or 155. Looking back on it, the years went by fast and it was pretty remarkable that I was able to stay healthy."
What was also remarkable was how far Gehrig's record Ripken wound up going, playing in an additional 502 straight before stopping late in the 1998 season. Ripken retired in 2001.
"I think it was important for me to keep playing with the same attitude that I did coming into that record-breaking night," Ripken said. "I never set out to break the record. It wasn't my goal. I wasn't hopeful that it would be my identity. I thought it was the right way to approach the game. My Dad was there to enforce that sort of approach; you come to the ballpark; you're an everyday player and if the manager wants you to play, you play."
The late Cal Ripken Sr. remains very much a part of his son's life. As the famous son sat in the dugout with Orioles coach John Shelby before Sunday's game, an image of his father flashed on the big screen in centerfield, looking down as he did from a private box the night Gehrig's record was broken.
"I got a great charge of seeing him today," Ripken said.
Ripken admits that Buck Showalter's hiring as Orioles manager has strengthened his interest in his old team – and the possibility of becoming involved in an official capacity once the younger of his two children goes off to college. Ryan Ripken is a junior at Gilman.
"Buck turns on my baseball brain," Ripken said. "I had a chance to sit and talk with him when he came up to Aberdeen to watch [Manny] Machado up there perform. Our conversations wouldn't be that interesting to other people. I always thought Buck was one of the best baseball guys I ever had a chance to talk to. I still have my timetable… and I still value the flexibility and the time that I have now, and you wouldn't have that if you came back to the big-league scene."
As befitting Ripken's style, Sunday's ceremony was brief, though he received a warm ovation from the crowd.
There was no victory lap this time.
"You can't recreate that moment that happened," Ripken said. "I was embarrassed to take the lap that night. I'd be extra embarrassed to take it even now."