On anniversary of streak, Ripken honored with statue
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TIMORE -- On the 17th anniversary of the night Cal Ripken Jr. passed Lou Gehrig and broke the record many thought couldn't be touched, the Orioles paid tribute to their former shortstop.
The Orioles unveiled a bronze statue of Ripken looking very much like he was trying to snag a grounder deep in the hole. He's the fifth Orioles great to get a statue made in his honor as part of the Orioles Legends Celebration Series this season.
Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer's statues were unveiled earlier this year, with Brooks Robinson's coming Sept. 29. Toby Mendez created the artwork.
Though the fans cheered Ripken once again, just as they did on the historic night in 1995, there was a piece of delicious irony this time around.
Even though it had been planned many moons ago, this celebration took place before a game that meant so much, something that hasn't happened at Camden Yards in a long time. The Orioles were battling for first place with the Yankees in the AL East, and Ripken loved it.
"It's a huge series, so there's a lot of great excitement out there," Ripken said when talking with the media after the ceremony. "Coming in on September 6th, it feels really good to walk into that stadium and see the excitement and see that's there's a big series in September with the Yankees and there's only one game that separates the two teams. Certainly it adds to it. This is an exciting time for this team."
Ripken, as he usually does, tried to deflect the spotlight and praise away from himself. He talked about what the Oriole Way used to mean and why, on a night when they were fighting for first place once more, it meant so much again.
"This particular ceremony, the meaning was clear -- it's not about me," Ripken said. "It was about the Orioles, the celebration of the Orioles, the connection to what the Oriole Way stood for. Certainly the Orioles have come back to competition. It wasn't about me. It was about the Orioles family."
However, it also had a lot to do with Ripken, and since it came on the anniversary of his breaking Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played. The Orioles did a few things to remind fans of what happened that September night in 1995.
The team placed an "8" on the red brick warehouse wall where the numbers of Ripken's Iron Man streak kept changing each game, until finally reaching 2,131 on that historic night. The changing of the numbers every night when a game became official grew into a signature moment for The Streak.
In a ceremony before the game, Billy Ripken talked a bit about The Streak and his brother. The former Orioles second baseman made a few comments to those who felt his big brother was more interested in chasing Gehrig than getting wins.
"It's about a guy that cared about what he did on the field, cared about what he did off the field, and cared about how he did what he did and how he did it off the field," Billy Ripken said. "He still does. The streak doesn't define Junior. Junior defines the Streak."
Today's Orioles still have a lot of respect for Ripken and what he accomplished over that long stretch.
Manager Buck Showalter played against Ripken in the Minor Leagues. He managed against him in the Majors, and the skipper has a very strong memory of the big shortstop and how Ripken went about his work.
"Cal was very serious about his trade," Showalter said. "That's what hit me. Everything had a purpose. That was an honor playing against him."
That was the theme most people brought up when speaking about Ripken before the game. Louis Angelos, representing ownership, listed a number of Ripken's accomplishments over the years, and marveled at how he just kept doing it year after year.
"His professionalism and his resilience have made Cal Ripken Jr. a model of consistency and truly a baseball player for the ages," Angelos said.
Ripken admitted later that the statue impressed him. He said he took pride in his success at shortstop, basically being the first big player to find real success at the position. Ripken opened the door for a different type of player to be there.
"I was very proud of the time that I played there," Ripken said. "I think maybe in a small way I changed the dialogue that says, 'Maybe a bigger guy can play in the shortstop position.' So I was very proud of that. I'm very proud of the pose. It looks like me and I think it captures who I was as a shortstop."
And it was unveiled on a night the Orioles were fighting for first place. Even better.