Friday, December 18, 2009

The Orioles' Decade '00-'09 (5-3)

5. Ripken's 3000th hit

The decade started out with some history for the Orioles coming from a familiar source. On April 15, 2000 Cal Ripken Jr. collected his 3000th hit in Minnesota off Twins reliever Hector Carrasco.

2000 had started off slow for Ripken, whose 1999 season was cut short due to back spasms, he was barely over the mendoza line coming into the game that night and people were questioning whether this was his last season in the game. But Ripken would break out of his funk that night, going 4-5 and playing a solid third base, as everyone was used to seeing.

In the seventh inning and with one out Ripken stepped to the plate. With Albert Belle on third and the game tied at four Ripken came up to face Carrasco. Everyone on Minnesota knew that Cal was one hit away from history and the crowd came to their feet. Suddenly, Carrasco uncorked a curveball that got away from catcher Matt LeCroy. Belle would score on the passed ball – no RBI for Cal that night. The next pitch was laced into CF for a base hit. Cal's 3000th. The crowd stood and cheered and the Metrodome scoreboard made not of the historic line-drive.

With that hit Ripken became just the sixth player in baseball history to collect 3000 hits and 400 homeruns. That single solidified Ripken's name in the history books next to the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and former Oriole Eddie Murray.

The rest of 2000 would not be as kind to Cal. Injuries began to derail the Ironman as he played in only 83 games that year the fewest number of games since he became a full time player in 1982. Ripken would soldier through though, but everyone knew that Cal, The Ironman, and the most identifiable Oriole of a generation would not be long for the game.

4. Cal Ripken Jr.'s last game

What else needs to be said? Cal Ripken Jr.'s last game. There is a serious part of me that wishes this to be number one. How often do players like Ripken come through the game? How often come through your team? How often do they stay on the same team for their entire career?

Every team will have a Hall of Famer at some point. Every team will have a great player/ leader come through their ranks. But Ripken was a legend. Ripken was a symbol of what baseball was, is and should be. He is the Gold Standard by which other shortstops are judged. He is the type of players that fathers want their sons to become.

Ripken was able to say goodbye to the game in Baltimore, but only because the September 11th attacks postponed a Baltimore-Yankee series in New York. Through that horrific bit of irony the city of Baltimore got to say farewell to their native son.

Ripken's career is simply one of legend. The streak aside; Ripken (as mentioned above) is one of only seven players in history to have collected 400 Hrs and over 3,000 hits. No shortstop has hit more homeruns and he is largely credited for revolutionizing the position. Prior to Cal shortstops were “all glove, no bat” type players (Think Mark Belanger or Ceasar Izturis) but Cal's superior bat and defensive agility quickly made him one of the best at his role.

Today, the Orioles are still suffering from an era without Ripken. I call it “hero-withdraw”. We are still waiting for “The next Ripken,” much like Yankees fans will eventually search for “the next Jeter” and the entire NBA is still looking for “the next Jordan”. Orioles fans still debate “the face of the franchise” and we are desperately hoping for someone like Markakis or Roberts or Wieters to step up and try to fill the whole that Ripken left with his retirement. But the reality is this Orioles fans – there will never, NEVER, be another Cal Ripken Jr. He wasn't just a Hall of Famer he was a legend and we are forever blessed that we had the privilege to cheer for him.

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