Thursday, January 26, 2006

Memories Pay On, 10 Years Later

A look back at the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played
Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
By Dan Connolly, Roch Kubatko and Bill Ordine
Sun Staff
September 6, 2005

The record-breaking evening of Sept. 6, 1995, wasn't just Cal Ripken's night to pass Lou Gehrig on the consecutive games list. It was also a celebration of baseball, of Baltimore, of a favorite son. For many, it was the most memorable night ever spent at a ballpark. Here are the sights, sounds and thoughts of 15 people who were there that evening, told in their own words.

Kelly Ripken
The Dulaney High School and University of Maryland graduate has been married to Cal for nearly 18 years.
That morning, there was a lot of energy and excitement in the house because he had already tied it and we knew that tonight he would hopefully break it. There was a lot of excitement, but my kids were young then and I was trying to get a 2-year-old [Ryan], a 5-year-old [Rachel] and myself organized. It was exciting, but at the same time I went into event mode, making sure we had everything together.

In the fifth inning [when the game became official and the record was broken], I remember looking over at him. It was such a proud moment. I was so proud that he had done this. There was a look between the two of us, husband and wife, like, "Wow, can you believe this?" We had had quite a few [threats] during the six to eight months leading up to it. Some folks out there didn't want to see him break the record for whatever reason. It was a very trying time. So, at the stadium, Cal and I knew at that moment that that part of our lives would go away. It was a sense of pride and a sense of relief.

Vi Ripken
She watched from a skybox with her husband, Cal Sr., who died in 1999.

You were in a dream watching everything unfold. I think it was the first time I could ever say that the whole stadium had a love affair with him. We were very fortunate to have shared that moment with [Cal Sr.]. He didn't say much. He stood there. Cal looked up at his father and waved. His father waved back, and he had that silly little grin on his face. You had to drink it all in.

When they pushed him out on the field, that was a shocker, that took my breath away. I guess I was really frightened at that moment. I had never thought about it before. "Oh my God, he is in the middle of everything by himself." Once he started making the lap, those fears disappeared. When they pushed him out and he started that, it was a couple seconds of pure trauma.

We live in a crazy world. I understand there were anonymous threats from city to city. I just hadn't thought about it in Baltimore. When that happened, that shot through my mind. It was scary for a few seconds.

Rachel Ripken
She is now a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Paul's School for Girls. She'll be remembered for wiping her face after her father kissed her on national television.

I remember that was the first day of pre-first [between kindergarten and first grade], and my dad took me to school. I remember going to the ballpark later, and I didn't really understand it was a big deal until the numbers on the warehouse turned. It didn't hit me until then that this was a really big moment and was something to go down in history.

When he kissed me, I know I didn't like it at all because he was so sweaty. That's why I wiped it off. I guess that was my 5-year-old reaction. He was all gross and sweaty.

When he came over, he took off his jersey and he was wearing the shirt we made for him [it said "2,130+ Hugs and Kisses For Daddy"]. I was one of the only ones that knew about the "hugs and kisses Daddy" shirt. That was so cool. I was so happy because it said, "Daddy" and that was my dad's shirt.

Bill Ripken
He played next to his brother for seven seasons with the Orioles, watched part of the game in a skybox, but saw the fifth inning from the front row.

Just coming into the ballpark, there was a certain buzz I don't think I ever experienced before. The Orioles were out of the running that September, yet there was something very big that was going to happen and you knew that going into the ballpark. You could feel it.

I wanted to be down there for that for sure. I worked enough magic and power to be in the seats during the victory lap. I played quite a few games with him and watched some important things on the field with him, and I wanted to be with him then. I wanted to be looking at it on the field; I didn't want to see it from the box.

When he was doing the lap, I was like, "Damn, let's go." It was what, 22 minutes? A standing ovation for 22 minutes? Everybody, I think, was spent from that lap. I was tired. I was like, "Let's speed it up and let's sit your butt back down in the dugout."

Bobby Bonilla
A former Orioles outfielder and now a special assistant for the baseball players union, he helped push Ripken out onto the field for his famous lap.

I was taking video myself and trying to capture it for my own library of special moments. All of us were sitting down and we were all kind of talking and one thing led to another. Cal was trying to let it die a little bit. That's how Cal is. He wasn't going to do anything to add to it.

They wanted more of Cal. Everybody was so caught up in the whole thing. I myself was one. I didn't want that fifth inning to stop myself. It kept going, and Raffy [Palmeiro] and I said, "This might not stop until Cal does something special." All it took was a little shove. The rest is history.

I had never personally seen that myself. And I played in a World Series in Florida in front of 57,000 and it wasn't as loud as that night. You could feel it everywhere. Like the people watching at home, you could almost hear them clapping.

Phil Regan
The Orioles manager in 1995 is a TV analyst for the West Michigan Whitecaps in Grand Rapids, Mich.

They had all those numbers up on the warehouse, but there weren't any moments of tension or excitement until maybe the last week broke. Then, all of our players started to stand up when they dropped the numbers. The crowd was outstanding, and the music they were playing was like a tribute to a king.

That night, everybody was on the top step, and it was pretty emotional. They stopped the game, and everybody had tears in their eyes. I know I did. And then just to see Cal, the way he handled it. To go around the outfield and shake hands and take that time, for me it really was a night that saved baseball for that year.

The other thing I focused on was his dad coming back. We hadn't seen him around much, and being an older manager, I could relate with the father-and-son aspect. I knew Cal Sr. had some hard feelings [with the Orioles], and it was nice that he was there to see that.

Larry Barnett
Now retired, he was behind home plate for the record-breaker.

In a 31-year career, that was the highlight. It was historic. I've worked World Series and playoff games, and this was the most exciting. I really believe that Cal Ripken is what baseball is all about.

When he did it, and the visitors' inning was over and it became official and he did that lap around the stadium, it just gave you goose bumps. President Clinton was there, and the head of Clinton's Secret Service detail behind home plate asked me when Cal was going around, "How long are you going to let this go on?" And I said, "When he's finished. That's when we'll restart the game."

Shawn Boskie
Later an Oriole, he was the California Angels' starter that night and gave up a home run to Ripken in the fourth inning.

People will see the game on ESPN Classic every year and say, "Hey, I saw you," and it's because I gave up a home run. I don't take credit for the night. I'm just grateful for being part of it.

Warming up in the bullpen, I remember all the extra adrenaline I had. I don't think I threw a strike in my first 10 pitches. The catcher was diving all over the place. I finally stepped off the mound and told myself to calm down, and then I was all right.

People still say they're sorry about the home run, and I tell them, "Look, I gave up a billion home runs. That's not a bad one." As he was circling the bases, I thought to myself, "Whatever. It's his night."

Ken Rosenthal
A former Sun columnist, he covers baseball for Fox Sports.

I remember being terrified. I had covered Olympic Games, World Series, you name it, but this would be by far the most important column I had ever written. I sought out Mike Littwin, who had preceded me as a sports columnist at The Sun, and Mike reminded me of Ripken's importance to Baltimore, to the Orioles and to baseball in the wake of the players' strike. As always, he had it just right.

I wrote some early material before the game. And then everything just flowed. When Ripken took the victory lap, it was obvious that would form the basis of the column. I just wrote what happened. You could see Ripken shaking hands with fans, President Clinton applauding, Ripken's father, Cal Ripken Sr., fighting back tears. It was so powerful. I had tears in my eyes. I'm sure others in the press box did, too.

When I got home that night, my wife said to me, "You have to write about so many negative things. I'm really glad you got to cover that." I felt exactly the same way.

Chris Berman
As ESPN's play-by-play man, he and broadcast partner Buck Martinez stayed silent during the 22-minute Ripken tribute in the fifth inning.

You had the distinct feeling that there were eyes watching well beyond the people in the ballpark. Cal was hardly a construction worker, I realize, but it had the feeling of someone who packed their lunch and went to work every day for years and years regardless of how they felt. It was a celebration of the game. And it was a celebration of America. It was a flag-waving night.

[Ripken] was circling the stadium and shaking hands with fans and security guards and teammates. Make no mistake, it hit Buck and me and we were just about crying, too. But we thought, "Let everyone just see this." If we had spoken, we couldn't have made it any better.

And we wound up winning an Emmy for that broadcast. I've probably gotten more praise for those 22 minutes when I didn't speak than for the 26 years when I did have something to say. So there's probably a message in there somewhere.

John Maroon
Formerly the Orioles' public relations director, he now performs a similar role for Ripken Baseball.

I remember it being the most intense media coverage of any event I have ever been involved in. It seemed to pick up a lot of steam after the All-Star break. There was something every day for Cal, and what helped a lot was that Cal gave into the process. He decided to roll with it. And when that happened, it certainly made my job easier.

Once the night was there upon you and all the credentials [between 600 and 700] were issued and all the seating and the press releases were done and the interview rooms were set up, there was just a game to be played. I made a promise to myself that once the fifth inning came and that number dropped, I wasn't going to answer any more questions or take any phone calls.

Everybody was just watching, even in the press box. I looked around, and no one was writing, no one was on the phone. Everybody was taking it in. They were taking minutes away from their job to take in a heartwarming, historical moment.

Mark Jacobson
He is still one of two primary official scorers at Camden Yards.

As a scorer, you go into the game having a couple of feelings: what a great night this is, and I hope he doesn't have three errors. But, with Cal, you didn't really need to worry. He was so solid. Out of the 40-something games I scored that year, he made two errors. And none of the other plays were even questionable.

You knew you were creating a document that would document history. I asked what would happen to the score sheet. Normally, Elias [Sports Bureau] saves it until the end of the year, then puts it on microfilm and throws it away. But this one's in the Hall of Fame.

It's kind of neat. It makes me a bit player in history. In the remarks section, where you'd normally put that Terry Clark faced one batter in the eighth, I just wrote 2,131 and left it at that.

Lisa Lorden
Now a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she was the first to greet Ripken during his lap.

I spent pretty much the time in between every inning taking [fans'] cameras and I would take pictures of them in their seats. Flashes were going off everywhere. It was fabulous.

[In the fifth,] he was running up, waving, and he was very close to me. We just shook hands and I congratulated him and he kept going. That was a total shock like, "Oh, my God, I get to shake his hand and get to start this." I didn't know how far down the line he'd go. People were screaming, leaning over the rail to get a handshake.

The next day I started seeing the shot [of her and Ripken] and the replays on ESPN. A year and a half later, I was still working for the Orioles in another department and someone brought a baseball card to me with me on it. I couldn't believe it.

Rick Hubata
An Orioles partial-season ticket-holder who owns an Ellicott City sports memorabilia shop, he bought a special $5,000 seat along the right-field foul line.

Coming from my business, the '94 strike was tough, and certainly the sales of baseball cards and baseball items had really dropped off that Christmas season. The feeling [that night] was, "God, baseball is great again." I was one of the first that got to shake his hand, and I was very nervous. That's when he was riding in the convertible and I was afraid I'd pull him out of there, I was hanging on so tight. And that would have been the end of the streak.

It was just a solid standing ovation. People behind me did their best to jump over and get close, but not in the usually rude way that happens when people get autographs. This was pure adulation. Nobody pushed. Nobody shoved. Everybody just wanted to touch him.

Bud Selig
Baseball's ninth commissioner was in charge of the major leagues when the 1994 World Series was canceled.

We're now in a remarkable renaissance period for baseball. We're setting attendance records, and what started that was the night of Sept. 6, 1995. No question in my mind.

I have been to a lot of games and have seen a lot of emotions in my over-40-year career in baseball, and I don't know that I ever saw a night with more love and affection than there was in that ballpark that night. It was tremendous.

I was standing in the press box [for the victory lap] and I watched all of it, and just to watch it was unbelievable. It really was a great night because it was the manifestation not only of a great career, but of a man who understood so well and poignantly not only his role in baseball, but his role in society.
Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

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