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The Streak Extends With Threads of Steel : Baseball: The Orioles' Ripken will play in his 2,000th consecutive game today, a remarkable feat for a shortstop.

August 01, 1994|From The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — The date was May 29, 1982.

Ronald Reagan had been president for 494 days.

It was the last year of Earl Weaver's first term as manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

Brooks Robinson was more than a year away from his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Don Mattingly was more than three months away from his major league debut.

Johnny Oates was in his first season as a manager, with the double-A Nashville Sounds.

The Colts were still in Baltimore.

And Cal Ripken Jr. didn't play the second game of a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays. That's the last time the Orioles have taken the field without Ripken in the lineup.

Nobody could have guessed it at the time, but Memorial Day, 1982, was the start of something special.

More than 12 years later, The Streak is baseball's most amazing feat and Ripken perhaps the game's most respected performer. He commands adulation from his peers and fans alike.

Barring the unexpected, such as another collapsed ceiling, or the unspeakable, Ripken will play his 2,000th consecutive game in Minnesota today. He has tried to approach it as merely another game with a number, but this one is rounded off as much as possible to Lou Gehrig's all-time record of 2,130 and cannot be ignored.

While Ripken attempts to look at The Streak as a result of circumstances and good fortune, others are astounded by the magnitude of what he has accomplished. So much so, in fact, that they struggle for words while trying to describe it. Asked what 2,000 consecutive games meant to them, former teammate Mike Flanagan and Oates used an identical phrase. "It's mind-boggling."

"I can't even remember that far back," Oates said. "It boggles my mind to think of the stuff I've done in my life since he began that streak. My son hadn't even started school yet--and now he's getting ready to go to college."

Flanagan has watched Ripken from three vantage points. He was with the Orioles when Ripken started his career and when his own ended. In between, he got an opponent's look while with the Toronto Blue Jays, and he now observes as a television commentator.

"I just think it's incredible," Flanagan said. "It's tough to comprehend. It hits me almost every day now--if I stub my toe or something else freaky happens.

"One of the amazing things about it is that he doesn't have any apprehension at all. You'd see that in the clubhouse--but he's still one of the most playful players in there."

Indeed, some would shudder if they saw some of the antics Ripken engages in with Ben McDonald--or watched him torment clubhouse attendant Butch Burdett. "He's still a kid who likes to have fun," Oates said.

*

"This thing that happened," Ripken said, choosing his words cautiously when referring to The Streak, "is a byproduct of the type of player I am. I was fortunate enough, after a slow start, to get established early as an everyday player.

"I wasn't platooned, I wasn't pinch-hit for, at least not after the very beginning, and they didn't feel a need to take me out for defense," he said. "I had some quick success and got established early. I had a desire to play and five managers who wanted to put me out there.

"All I've done is maintain my approach to the game. I try to do everything in my 13th year the same way I did in my first--and my managers have allowed me to do that."

*

The most astounding thing about The Streak is that Ripken has played all but 27 of the games at shortstop.

"To play as demanding a position as he does and to play it as well as he does is unbelievable," said the Detroit Tigers' Alan Trammell. "He has got to be as strong mentally as anybody who has ever played this game. There is no question in my mind.

"He's been fortunate as far as avoiding major injuries. But he's also needed to be mentally strong to perform every day--to want to perform every day. He never gives in mentally."

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