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September 05, 2005

Cal Ripken: Iron Man and Role Model

Notable anniversaries surround us. August 15th marked V-J day, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In less than a week, we will be observing a day that changed all our lives, September 11th. And it was just two days ago that the first anniversary was marked for the Beslan school massacre. Sadly, most anniversaries mark events that we would prefer have not happened.

However, tomorrow marks a happy occurence. On September 6th, 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. set the record for consecutive games played at 2,131 (he would later extend that record to 2,632 games, a mark that would take active leader Miguel Tejada, currently at Cal Ripken's trademark position, Orioles' shortstop, more than 12 seasons to reach). Ripken single handedly brought back interest to Major League Baseball, which was low after the strike-shortened 1994 season, with his chase for the record. This was a thrilling moment for me, having been a life-long Baltimore Orioles and Cal Ripken fan. Yet, Ripken's legacy will extend well beyond this record.

Cal grew up in a baseball family, and because of this, he understood the value of hard work and dedication. He was always a team player and quickly made his way to the starting shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. His loyalty was obvious, as he never left the team, even when Mike Bordick was brought in to play shortstop (Ripken would play third base for the rest of his career). And in a day where steroids have become the buzzword at Major League ballparks, Ripken proved consistent and unrelenting. He was so respected that in his final All-Star Game, Alex Rodriguez offered Cal his position; Ripken would go on to win the All-Star Game MVP after hitting a solo home run to start the scoring in a 4-1 American League win.

But Ripken's actions off the field are just as notable. President Bush named Cal Ripken honorary commisioner for White House South Lawn Tee Ball a few years ago. Ripken also is an active member of his community, giving to charities. And Cal Ripken is a classic family man, coaching his son and daughter's sports teams.

In an age where negative news dominates and it seems like integrity is a rare character trait, role models do still exist. The ten year anniversary of the new consecutive games streak represents more than just another statistic; it is a monument to true character. For us baseball freaks, Cal Ripken is the classic athlete of which type we wish would return. Perhaps the marking of this date will sink in for some of the selfish and egotistical athletes in today's professional sports; maybe the youth will take note and bring back the team player. Regardless, Cal Ripken Jr. will leave a lasting influence on his fans and deserves the praise he receives, even if he will humbly try to deny it or transfer it to someone else.