BALTIMORE -- Cal Ripken Jr., spent his whole career as a Baltimore Oriole, but that doesn't mean he didn't impact the fate of others.
Ripken, who was the fifth Oriole honored with a larger-than-life bronze sculpture prior to Thursday's game, helped pave the way for a new kind of shortstop, and Yankees stars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both grew up idolizing the Iron Man.
"Before Cal, most of the shortstops were a lot shorter and when you were younger, people would tell you, you're too short to play shortstop," Jeter said. "And you could say, 'Look at Cal.' He was sort of your first line of defense for anyone that said that.
"I have the utmost respect for him, the way he played, the way he did his job, each and every day. And more importantly, the way he treated people. He always treated people well."
Jeter and Rodriguez were among a group of Yankees who took in Ripken's on-field ceremony from the top steps of the visiting dugout, getting a front-row seat as Ripken threw out the ceremonial first pitch on the anniversary of the day he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games-played streak of 2,130.
"You talk about the Michael Jordans, the Wayne Gretzkys, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird; Cal Ripken is right there," said Rodriguez, who grew up with a Ripken poster on his wall. "He's one of the special names in baseball. When our game was struggling, he basically put the game on his shoulders and carried it for a long time. What he did here when he played on this field is something that 100 years from now, you will be seeing the clips from that."
Rodriguez was part of a special moment with Ripken during 2001's All-Star Game, Ripken's 19th and final Midsummer Classic. Elected to start the game at shortstop, Rodriguez schemed to have Ripken take the position instead, a farewell sendoff that still marks one of the best moments in All-Star Game history.
"That was a very special moment for me, and I know it was for Cal as well," Rodriguez said. "And for all the great fans of the Baltimore Orioles. I mean, it's one of the great franchises here. To see him one more time at shortstop in front of all the great fans of baseball, I thought it was a great moment in sports.
"I thought of the idea, and it had to go all the way up the channel, to [Commissioner] Bud Selig's desk. He approved it, and everyone knew the plan except Cal. And it was just a great surprise. When I went over, I said, 'Cal you are going to short'. And he said, 'No, the game's about to start, let's go. And he looked at [then Yankees manager] Joe Torre and he said, 'Yeah, go to shortstop'. And it was one of those moments I'll never forget."
Ripken received a one-inning tribute at his original shortstop position and opened the scoring in the third with a solo homer, en route to be named the game's MVP.
"What he did was amazing, it's really superhero-like," Rodriguez said of Ripken's streak. "To play one season, all 162 games, is almost impossible. And to be able to do it for 17, 18 years is remarkable."
"I can barely make it through nine innings," Jeter joked. "He never made excuses, regardless of how he felt, he still went out there and played. And you have to respect that whether you are an Oriole fan, a fan of another team, or not even necessarily a baseball fan. He's just a hard worker in general, and you have to respect what Cal was able to do."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.