My tribute to Cal Ripken, Jr.

15-1. Just awful. At least the Brewers lost as well. Though worse than us losing was the Cubs winning. Now they are tied for first and Cubs fans everywhere are rejoicing. The only thing I can hope is that the Cubs will continue to be the Cubs and at some point the bottom will drop out. Add that to another tough loss today and it’s so frustrating. To take 3 of 4 from the Brewers and now to drop two straight to the Pirates. Cardinals, what are you doing to me?? The Brewers lost again tonight to the Mets and the Cubs are trailing in the 9th inning. What a great spot this would have been to gain some ground.

So two losses are clearly not really something I want to spend a lot of time blogging about. Instead, I will talk about something much more pleasant. And that is the induction of two of the nicest guys ever to play the game into the Baseball Hall of the Fame. Guys with enormous talent and enormous hearts. I never got to see Tony Gwynn play live, which is strange because I rooted for a NL team, but I did get to see Cal Ripken Jr. play.

I went to college in Minnesota and so I adopted the Twins as my favorite AL team and went to a ton of games at the Dome. One evening in April, a friend suggested we all go to the game because the Orioles were coming to town. I was all in favor of that because I’ve always been a fan of Cal, Jr., especially after I watched him break one of the toughest and most impressive streaks in all of baseball; consecutive games played. However, I was skeptical that we’d see any magic that night. He was 3 hits away from the big mark of 3,000 lifetime hits. "Maybe tomorrow night, he’ll do it," I said, but nevertheless, I was pumped to go to the game. Three friends and myself took off for the dome, along with thousands of other fans.

Everyone cheered when Cal stepped up to plate and proceeded to cheer Cal, even as he made an out. He then got a couple of hits and I started thinking, just maybe this would be the night. Only one of those two really stands out to me. It was a high bouncer to the left side of the infield, but they couldn’t make a play on him. Then in the 7th inning, it happened. After a pitching change, Ripken lined the ball up the middle for hit #3000. And the crowd went absolutely crazy. We high fived strangers, yelled until our throats were sore and gave him a standing ovation. It was by far the most exciting non-Cardinal baseball moment that I have ever witnessed in person. And I just happened to be the in the right place at the right time. Had he done it a year earlier when he should have, I would not have seen the feat.

We were all presented certificates when we left that said, "I was there" with a spot to put your ticket stub from the game. It remains a piece of my personal baseball collection.

But the best part came the next time. It was a Sunday and we figured the crowd would be lighter because the heroics had already happened. The Twins were pretty bad back then and could barely muster a crowd. In fact, having 20,000 or so at Cal’s 3,000 hit was a pretty big deal. This was strange for a Cardinal fan that is used to seeing 40,000 on a Wednesday at Busch.

Nevertheless, this day it was quite good for us. We got there early and easily walked down the front row of the dome. They gave Cal the day off and you know what he did with it? He walked over and started signing autographs. My friends and I had brought our ticket stubs from the day before, hoping to get them signed. We waited patiently as Cal made his way from the visiting dugout all the way down to us (about halfway down) and eventually all the way to the foul pole. He got all of our tickets signed, except for one of my friends, so we waited to see if she could still get his autograph. After reaching the foul pole, he proceeded back down the wall and continued signing autographs. He reached us again and this time she got her ticket signed. And since he was there, I figured, what the heck, and gave him my ticket stub for that day as well. Saturday’s ticket was put on my certificate and I gave Sunday’s autographed stub to my mom.

I don’t think a person left the Metrodome that day wanting a Ripken autograph and failing to get one. I remember being completely blown away that this guy would take his day off and use it to make a bunch of strangers in an opposing stadium happy. It’s one thing to do this in Baltimore and an entirely different thing to do this for a bunch of people wearing Twins gear that will likely sell your autograph for profit the first they get the chance. But, that’s just one story of the kind of guy he was.

You saw it in the way he played the game. You learned about it in the way teammates talked about it. And you heard it in his HOF speech. This guy, along with Gwynn are two of the best Cooperstown could hope to have. And I am proud to say I saw him play and reach an important milestone. It’s a game I will certainly never forget.

Congratulations as well to Rick Hummell, long-time Cardinal writer who was also inducted. What a great honor for him. He is a graduate from the same high school I am.

Thanks Cal,
Tiffany

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