Cal Ripken Jr. on 2131 streak: ‘Did that really happen to me?’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Sept. 6 is a day that's long been celebrated in Baltimore.
The Orioles, on the 25th anniversary of the legendary day that Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, played host to the Yankees. Ripken was celebrated with a first pitch, patches worn by the Orioles, digital banners throughout the field and, naturally, interviews on television.
With Geoff Arnold and Ben McDonald on MASN’s broadcast of the game, Ripken said that he knew exactly what the 25th anniversary of the streak meant.
“It means I’m getting old, that’s what it means,” he joked. “It’s a wonderful memory. I’ve never been anyone to think about what’s happened in the past. When you get to a certain stage of your life, you look back fondly on many things you were able to accomplish. 2131 is almost one of those surreal, magical things that you wonder, ‘Did that really happen to me?’”
Ripken threw the game’s first pitch to his son, Ryan, who was just two-years-old at the time.
25 years after breaking Lou Gehrig’s longstanding record for consecutive games played, the Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr., returns to Camden Yards to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to his son, Ryan. #Cal2131 pic.twitter.com/63EhoApVhO— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) September 6, 2020
Ripken said that his son has gained an understanding and appreciation of the streak over the years, coming to realize what the streak meant to so many in Baltimore and around Major League Baseball.
What stuck out to Ripken were those people, who talked to him about their own lives, and their own personal streaks.
“Everybody in life goes through the grind,” Ripken told Arnold and McDonald. “That was the cool part about the streak, everybody shared their streak with me, their daily grind. They look at that very positively.”
McDonald, who was teammates with Ripken during his record-breaking season, was as aware as anyone about the criticisms of Ripken’s streak.
Some called Ripken’s play selfish, as he refused to take himself out of the lineup while playing hurt or when the team was struggling.
“Believe me, I knew it was happening when it was happening,” Ripken said. “There’s a lot of times you have to fall back on what you think is right and what you think is wrong, how you go about doing your job. I always thought it was right to come to the ballpark ready to play. And if the manager chose me to play, then I played.”
The streak, which began in 1982, lasted for 16 years.
“The funny part about the criticism is that the manager started the steak,” Ripken explained. “I didn’t tell Earl Weaver to play me, I didn’t tell Frank Robinson he had to play me. I understand when the streak got to a certain point, some pressure, some manager thought they couldn’t step in. But that’s still their job.”
There were a few close calls during the streak, where it appeared Ripken might not get the chance to eclipse Gehrig’s record.
After a bench-clearing brawl against the Mariners, Ripken thought he might not be able to join the lineup.
“I thought I could stop the whole Seattle Mariners dugout from jumping on top of Mike Mussina,” Ripken said. “I ended up on the bottom of that pile and twisted my knee in the process.”
Through it all, Ripken persevered and made the lineup each day until Sept. 20, 1998. He went through contending teams to rebuilding teams. And 25 years later, Ripken only recently saw the game footage for the first time.
“I think it enhanced the experience a lot,” Ripken said. “One of the great joys I had was it brought my dad back to life. I had the chance to see him on video, pointing down to me. I remember that experience, sharing about a thousand words back and forth in maybe about two seconds.”