It was August 9, 1981 in Rochester, N.Y. A tall, lean, college-aged kid was nearing the end of his summer internship. He had been working long days and nights, with virtually no time off.
He was aware that his bosses had been evaluating him all summer. They sensed that he was a young man with great potential, accompanied by the heart and desire to achieve his goals.
That day, he was promoted and reassigned to the company headquarters 350 miles south of Rochester, to the blue-collar town of Baltimore, Md. ? his hometown.
He was called up from the Rochester Red Wings as a doe-eyed rookie by the Baltimore Orioles. That kid was Cal Ripken, Jr. ? and at that moment in time the magnitude of his baseball career was still unscripted.
Coming from a baseball family, many were hopeful that Ripken was destined for greatness. His father, Cal Ripken, Sr. was perhaps one of the greatest teachers the game has ever known.
Ripken, Sr., himself a hard-scrabble, career minor leaguer, never played a day in the majors. But he knew the game and he passed on the trade secrets to his son.
Looking back on his career from a statistical standpoint seems almost an afterthought when reflecting on what the man meant to the game of baseball. Yet, the significance and enormity of his Hall of Fame numbers warrant attention.
For 17 seasons, the ?Iron Man? never took a day off. He played in 2,632 consecutive games, shattering Lou Gehrig?s seemingly unbreakable record. He amassed over 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, claimed two AL MVP awards, two All-Star MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and a World Series ring.
On top of all that, Cal has been unofficially credited with saving baseball after it endured a six-month long player?s strike in the mid-1990s.
Cal understood that the game is all about ?making contact?.
Not only the contact between bat and ball, but the honor of hard-fought competition, the day-to-day grind of a band of brothers striving to achieve a common goal and the necessity to insure that the fans feel a part of the game as well.
Perhaps it goes all the way back to a parent and child ? like Cal, Sr. and Jr.? who mutually share the joy of a simple game of catch at the earliest of opportunities. It connects the generations. Cal helped all of us feel like we had ?made contact.?
In baseball, making good ?contact? usually means that the batter has hit a pitch on the sweet spot of the bat, often with good result.
Every hitter knows how special it feels. Cal?s ?contact? was not confined to the playing field. It extended to family, friends, teammates, opponents and community. And while Cal?s performance on the diamond was like a symphony of discipline, grace and joy, perhaps the greatest flashbulb memory of Cal?s career occurred when no one was keeping score.
I was at Camden Yards that magical night he broke Gehrig?s record. The most memorable part of the night, and probably his whole career, is the vivid image of Cal making the ?circuit? around the inside perimeter of Camden Yards just after he broke the record.
Cal spontaneously decided he needed to make ?contact? with the fans. He ran around the stadium shaking hands with all of us.
Though I was sitting high up in the left field upper deck, I can honestly say I felt that Cal had shared a handshake with me as well.
As Cal?s career came to an official end last Saturday night at Baltimore?s Camden Yards, the game of baseball said goodbye to one if its icons.
We all rooted for Cal, as he represented all that was good and right in a game that can be often tainted by vanity and greed.
Cal helped everyone understand that the game of baseball was not just about the characters, but about character as well. He spent countless hours signing autographs after games, until his fingers blistered, simply because it was the right thing to do.
Baseball owes a debt of gratitude to Cal for the countless contributions he made. Modest and humble as he is, Cal himself would probably refute such a proposition, insisting that he was merely doing his job.
To the man who reminded baseball fans everywhere that with hard work and dedication, they too could ?make contact? just like their hero, I say simply this ? Thanks Cal, we?ll miss you.
Gerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.