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March 1, 2013

At Bat With the ‘Iron Man’

Harry M. Covert

After five standing ovations I stopped counting. The capacity crowd was a happy bunch. Applause from the seated patrons was loud and often including the balcony.


It was not an old-time fire-and-brimstone revival meeting, an over-zealous political rally of Bushwa, nor a championship celebration.


I’m writing of a recent St. Valentine’s Day love affair with Cal Ripken, Jr., at Frederick’s downtown Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts.


Without question it was a night to remember for the 1,200-plus audience, many of whom came dressed in baseball caps, uniform shirts and a couple of bats and gloves, most all bearing the logos of the Baltimore Orioles, to meet and hear the Hall of Famer.


It was fun to see moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas wearing shirts emblazoned with the numeral “8” as were their children, probably more so.


Pardon the expression, but Cal batted first on the Frederick Speakers Series. He’ll be a tough act to follow. The next “batter” is a former Secretary of State and four-star general who never played infield or walked to the plate.


Despite major league baseball’s black-eye over performance enhancing drugs, Cal said he was never involved in such activities. He added he is happy that the embarrassing drugs revelations are quickly fading into the past.


He said the baseball today, at all levels, is in great shape and attitudes have changed to the better. “Today’s youngsters believe the performance drugs are illegal and wrong,” he said. “This is good for society and the game.”


The Oriole legend was every bit as dignified on stage as he was during his 21-year Baltimore career at both the old Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yard.


His on field accomplishments may be known for scooping up ground balls, hitting home runs and becoming the “Iron Man.” He broke Lou Gehrig’s incredible consecutive game record with his own 2,131 uninterrupted streak. He continued to play until he reached 2,632 games.


Today, he’s a busy man. He is a writer of children’s’ books (one hitting book stores later this month), a businessman, a developer of youth leagues and players and has served as a diplomat for the U. S. State Department.


Besides his family, he told the rapt audience, breaking Gehrig’s record was not the milestone of his career. Yes he did get sick during his consecutive streak but his work ethic kept him going. This determination was instilled by his late father, Cal Ripken Sr.


“My greatest thrill,” said, “was catching the last out of the 1983 World Series. We beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game, 5-0,” he said. The championship victory came in Baltimore.


He paid particular tribute to teammates during his playing days including late Manager Earl Weaver. Cal’s shortstop spot was “always temporary” by Weaver. He finished his career at third.


Cal Ripken is encouraged at the future of the game, the country and the up-and-coming people. The most important thing in today’s society is for parents to lead and to educate children, he said.


It was a joy to see Cal’s virtues flowing from the elegant Weinberg stage. Frederick’s population claimed him as its own. He’s not just a living legend in Maryland but everywhere.


Thankfully, we’ll be singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” soon.


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