by Mark Jent
Today is the 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken, Jr playing in game 2,131 to break Lou Gehrig’s once unbreakable consecutive games streak. Like all of America, I’d been watching the calendar as Ripken closed in on the record. It was a Wednesday night and I was 17 years old and in my senior year of high school. I remember sitting down after we got home from church that night to watch history take place with my Mom (I believe Dad had a meeting after church). It was one of those baseball moments that I’ll always remember “where I was” and who I was with when it happened. The featured image for this story is from the sports page of The Tennessean the day after; I found it this afternoon in a box full of newspaper clippings that I kept from childhood.
In true Ripken fashion he hit a homerun in the bottom of the 4th inning. Then he went out for the top of the 5th inning and the entire crowd at Camden Yards got on their feet in anticipation for what was about to happen. Once the middle of the 5th inning arrived following three outs, it was official and the celebration began. As soon as they updated the banner by unfurling the 2,131 on the B&O Warehouse beyond right field, the place erupted. I remember sitting there with my Mom in awe as the ceremony transpired. (Although unconfirmed, reports are one or both of us might have shed a baseball tear.) I might have only been a teenager, but at that age I was a big enough fan to know that we were watching a significant moment in baseball history that we may never see again. They stopped the game for 22 minutes for the festivities and to acknowledge the significance of the moment. My most vivid memory was when Ripken began to “take his lap” around the field high-fiving and shaking hands with fans around the fence of the entire ballpark. Ripken knew his place in history, but he also knew that at that time he was the most recognized ambassador for the game.
I have never met Cal Ripken, Jr. The closest I’ve come was in Cooperstown in July 2018 for Hall of Fame induction weekend. After the Parade of Legends down Main Street, in true Ripken fashion he got out of the back of the truck that was escorting him to the Hall of Fame and proceeded to sign 100s of autographs for over an hour. (He passed right over my ball and pen!) This very thing is something that Ripken was known to do throughout the 1995 season leading up to breaking the record. After games he would stay for 1-2 hours signing autographs and taking pictures with fans, which was unheard of back then or even today.
You have to remember this was the season after the 1994 strike which cancelled the end of the season and we lost the only World Series in history since its inception in 1903. The strike wasn’t settled until spring 1995 which delayed the start of that season. Ripken knew baseball fans were not pleased at the work stoppage and were frustrated at the players, the owners, and the game in general. So in his own humble way, with the record of the streak in sight, it’s like he put the game of baseball on his back and returned it to the good graces of the fans that summer of ‘95. It restored the faith of the fans in the national pastime. Ripken would go on to play another 501 games before voluntarily taking a day off three years later towards the end of the ’98 season.
Last September on our Epic East trip, our first stop was Baltimore. We took a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour of Camden Yards which took us down to the field level and in the Orioles’ dugout. As I stood there I couldn’t help but think what it must have been like to be there that night in September ‘95 when Ripken broke Gehrig’s seemingly immortal streak. The electricity. The fireworks. The pomp and circumstance. The nostalgia. The history. All for the Iron Man, who simply showed up for work every day to do his job. Yet he didn’t just show up, he excelled and became one of the best shortstops to ever play the game.
To read more about Ripken’s streak, check out ESPN’s Buster Olney’s story that he wrote this past spring as he reflected on what it was like to cover Ripken and the Orioles that season for the Baltimore Sun.
Mark Jent is the chief trip planner and designated storyteller for Simply A Fan. He lives in Nashville with his wife Beth, and their three kids, Brooklyn, Harrison and Zach. He enjoys cheering on his Dodgers, reading baseball history, hiking at Radnor Lake and chasing waterfalls throughout Tennessee with his family. He launched Simply A Fan in July 2018 with the two-fold purpose of taking people on adventures to ballparks across the country and providing fans a platform to share their baseball stories. He is currently on a quest to meet as many of the living Brooklyn Dodgers as possible.
The sports section of The Tennessean, delivered to my house the morning after 2,131.
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