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"Unless you're leading the Dog, the view never changes." - sign just outside the Yankees spring training clubhouse, Legends Field, Tampa, Florida
Baseball’s Ironman left a lasting impression on the game.
He played the game like it was meant to be played. For that, fans of America's pastime couldn't help but admire him.
modernerabaseball.com decided to collect perspectives on Cal Ripken, Jr. from three very different fans – a lifelong Orioles fan from Maryland, a Ripken fanatic from California and broadcaster Jon Miller.
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It’s 4 p.m. at Edison International Field on a warm sunny summer Sunday in Anaheim.
Mike Aubry, his wife, and four-year-old son have been waiting for the gates to open, anxious to get perhaps their last glimpse at there favorite player – and baseball passion – Cal Ripken, Jr.
“I played shortstop, played third base. Eight is the only number I’ll wear,” said Aubry, decked in Oriole garb from head to toe – literally. “I’ve got the old style hat. You can’t find some of this stuff back there (in Baltimore) so every time we’re going back there, I’m saying, ‘Honey, we’ve got to look for it because this might be the last time.’”
The end of an era has indeed come to a close in Major League Baseball. Two of the game’s most class acts – Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn – have retired.
For Aubry, it's a difficult time because the memories of Ripken run so deep.
Like the time his grandfather, Ed, caught a fly ball during Cal’s second year in the majors when the Orioles visited the old Anaheim Stadium.
Or when his uncle, Rich Gibson, used to take young Mike to ball games at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore when the Brea, California native would visit the East Coast. Aubry began following Cal when he was just six years old.
Or the time when Cal himself agreed to take a picture with Aubry and his then two-year-old son, Tyler.
“I said, ‘Cal, would you be kind enough to sign a picture with us? And he said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and we took the picture,” Aubry recalls. “And I’ll never forget it. He (then) signed my helmet, his helmet, and my son took his finger man, and just smeared the autograph as (Cal) walked away!”
“For me, that’s personal!” Aubry quipped. “A smear on the autograph and my son put it there! Cal Ripken cleaned it up because my son smeared it, and he resigned it. Cal said, ‘That looks a little better.’”
It’s actions like those that truly set Ripken apart, Aubry said. During Ripken’s last visit to Anaheim in July, the shoe-in Hall-of-Famer spent nearly 40 minutes signing autographs following the game. Finally, Cal had to stop although the crowds were still four rows back because he had a team bus to catch.
“You know, I think I admire his loyalty to the game,” Aubry said. “He’s a stand-up guy. He has maintained his integrity of the game and at a time when money transcends a lot of things about players – contracts, where the best place is to go to get the pennant. For nearly 20 years he’s been playing through some difficult times. And through all the ups and downs, he’s still an Oriole, and you know, that says a lot about his dedication.”
“He’s a Dad too, and he wants to teach his son right. Some of his attitudes – the way he walks, the way he handles himself in the media, in the public, on the field day-to-day – it’s something I’ve always admired,” Aubry added.
The admiration runs equally deep too for Jim Myer, a longtime Oriole fan from the Baltimore suburb of Severna Park, Maryland. Myer was in attendance the night Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played at 2,131. It is by far Myer’s most memorable Cal moment.
“2131. That was a pretty emotional time,” said Myer. “It was quite a time to realize how long it had been since that (record) happened."
Myer believes that Ripken and Gwynn’s decision to announce their retirement after the season began is a reflection that neither wanted the extra attention that announcing before the season would have created.
“I don’t think he (Ripken) wants the attention,” Myer said. “He does a lot of community things with kids reading and charitable things like that. I think he’s a class guy – he really is. I’ve watched him his whole career. I’ve been there the whole time he’s played in Baltimore and his Dad (the late Cal Sr.), too, and his brother (Billy).”
In addition to witnessing Ripken’s 400th home run, the night Cal finally ended the streak – 2,632 – also stands out in Myer’s memory.
“The day when he finally sat down. I think that was a rather tough time and he did it himself, you know? He took himself out of the lineup. I think he knew it was time to start backing off. And think that was part of the time when he started planning to retire and when he was going to stop.”
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Dec 16 2001, 22:17:17
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