Ripken eagerly awaits Hall induction
Orioles great not sure exactly what to expect at epic event
One thing everyone can be sure of, Cal Ripken Jr. will be on the podium July 29 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Showing up for events is what Ripken's career was all about. After all, he was in the Baltimore Orioles' lineup every game for more than 16 seasons.
Yet the feeling for Ripken as the big date approaches is different from glancing at his name on a lineup card hanging on some clubhouse door. This will not be just like any other day, and well he knows it. More than stepping onto a diamond, Ripken that day will be stepping into a gem of a different sort -- baseball immortality.
Ripken thought back Thursday to Jan. 9, when he had been notified of his election to the Hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and how distant his ultimate destination seemed, only to find himself now on the precipice of a Major League player's most precious dream.
"You look at the stages," Ripken said on a conference call from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he is conducting baseball clinics for youngsters. "Back when I got the call, I felt a great deal of excitement, but it seemed pretty far away. Now that we're at the homestretch, there's a feeling of absolute terror, wondering if you're ready or not."
Ripken backed off the phrase "terror" later in the call, but the sense of anticipation about Induction Weekend can be a terrifying experience, particularly this year's event -- which also features eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn -- that promises to draw the largest crowd to the Central New York State shrine in history.
The period leading up to the induction has made Ripken "shake my head and in some ways just pinch yourself. I look back at '2,131' and the outpouring of affection. This has been very similar. It makes me proud that so many people care so much."
The number reference, naturally, was to the night of Sept. 6, 1995, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, when Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game, eclipsing the 56-year-old record for durability set by fellow Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. Ripken pushed the figure to 2,632 games before he ended it Sept. 20, 1998, against the Yankees in Baltimore.
His post-playing career as the owner of a Minor League franchise and co-director with his brother, Bill, of a foundation giving under-privileged children the opportunity to play in summer camps has kept Ripken busy and close to the game, but he admits that this year has been much more hectic.
"It has reached another level of attention," Ripken said. "It raises the stimuli. It's all good, constantly good."
It helps, too, that his wife, Kelly, has the responsibility of seeing to the some 325 guests the Ripkens will have in town Induction Weekend, including film actor John Travolta, the star of "Grease," one of Cal's favorite movies. He also expects his favorite teammate, Eddie Murray, who was inducted in 2003, to be among the Hall of Famers returning for the ceremonies.
Ripken said he hasn't sought out advice from Hall of Famers particularly about what to expect, but a couple of former Chicago Cubs legends offered some insight.
"Ferguson Jenkins said it's not dissimilar to Opening Day," Ripken said. "You come out of Spring Training not sure if you're 100 percent or ready to go, but you can't wait to get into the regular season. Ryne Sandberg, who is kind of a low-key guy, said it's like playing second base. You take ground ball after ground ball in practice, and then when the game starts, it's all second nature."
Most Hall of Famers agree that the year after their induction is the most soothing because they can relax and drink in the atmosphere without the hoopla that surrounds inductees, but you can't have the second year without the first.
Ripken admitted that he is tired of answering questions about his speech, which will surely become an emotional test when the subject comes to the late Cal Ripken Sr., his father, a baseball lifer who instilled the work ethic for which his son became so identified.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of Dad," Ripken said. "Words come out of my mouth when I'm talking to kids, and it's like he's doing the instructing. It's going to be emotional talking about him. I hope I can get it out. I have to let [the speech] go at some point and say that's the final version. I'm ready not to be asked about it any more and to just do it."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.