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07/25/07 12:30 AM ET

Ripken given emotional Hall sendoff

Fans celebrate legend's career as induction approaches

BALTIMORE -- For one night only, the numbers were back on the warehouse at Camden Yards and Cal Ripken Jr. was the center of attention. The Orioles staged a Hall of Fame sendoff for their iconic shortstop on Tuesday night, lauding him for all of his accomplishments and all he meant to Baltimore during his two-decade run to immortality.

Ripken, a 19-time All-Star and member of the vaunted 3,000-hit club, is best known for his all-time record of 2,632 consecutive games played. His legacy has always gone way beyond the numbers, though, and on Sunday, he'll become the sixth player enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame to have the Orioles on his official plaque.

"It's all overwhelming," Ripken said at a pregame press conference. "A good pat on the back helps every once in a while when you're feeling down, but too much attention is overwhelming and makes you feel like, 'OK, let's not pay so much attention to me.' I do understand, intellectually, that it's a celebration of baseball and that Tony [Gwynn] and I play a role in that.

"I think the celebration of baseball in the Hall of Fame is something everybody looks forward to each and every year right in the middle of summer. ... But I'll have a sense of relief when it's all over and I'll want it to go back to a more normal environment."

Ripken got a trial run at all of the adulation on Tuesday night, when he entered the field in a silver Corvette and drove along the right-field foul line, tossing balls to fans along the way. The stadium was all dressed for the occasion, with a No. 8 painted behind the plate circled by those magic words: Hall of Fame Inductee.

The warehouse on Eutaw Street had the banners for 2,632 facing the field, and on the business side, it had a large poster with "Congratulations, Cal" emblazoned on it. As if all that wasn't enough, Ripken faced a capacity crowd and had Hall of Famers Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson and Robin Roberts on hand to share the occasion.

It was all too much for Ripken, who somehow held his steely composure -- perhaps because of all the practice he's had since learning of his election.

"Everywhere you go, people are congratulating you," he said. "Like I've said before, it's like you're getting married again or you're having kids again. It just feels good, and it's all building to a crescendo. We're right around the corner to the actual induction, but it was really great to be able to share this moment here in the ballpark."

Throughout the evening, the scoreboard showed video tributes from former teammates and Baltimore players from eras past. Ripken, who spent his entire career with the Orioles, watched messages from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and fellow inductee Gwynn, and he singled out Murray, Robinson and Weaver during his on-field speech.

Ripken, a two-time Most Valuable Player and former Rookie of the Year, said that Robinson was his role model for many years and thanked Weaver for his firm hand and managing style. Weaver, who managed the Orioles to four pennants and one World Series title, spoke to the media after the ceremony and said that Ripken was a Hall of Famer from the very beginning.

"That was written many years ago, probably before high school," he said. "His dad managed through the Minor Leagues, just like I did. Cal was the clubhouse boy in some of those Minor League towns. He knew what his dad was teaching professionals to move on to the Baltimore Orioles. He listened to all of that. He was just a born baseball person.

"There was nothing to keep him from being a star in the Major Leagues. That was inevitable."

Peter Angelos, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Orioles, released a statement to commemorate the occasion.

"Orioles fans will never forget Cal's catch to close out the 1983 World Series," Angelos wrote. "We will forever remember his 400th home run and his 3,000th hit. And, of course, we will cherish those magical nights on Sept. 5 and 6, 1995, when the entire nation watched Cal tie and set the record for consecutive games played, helping to almost single-handedly revitalize baseball.

"Cal will be remembered for these on-field accomplishments, but I will personally remember Cal for his strong desire to be a part of this community and to represent the Baltimore Orioles with the utmost respect and dignity, day after day, year after year."

When asked about his most enduring accomplishment -- the consecutive-games streak -- Ripken relayed how improbable it was by running down his health in recent days.

"I just blew my knee out -- had it drained and got some cortisone in it," he said. "My back hurts. Looking back on it, it seems pretty amazing that I was able to play all those games and be in the lineup, and be pretty healthy. Those few injuries that I had, I was able to play through. Looking back, I never set out to break the record.

"It didn't seem like a big deal when I was doing it. One game at a time, show up and try to meet the challenges of the day."

Ripken also addressed the current state of the game and the many off-field problems that seem to dominate the game on the field. When it comes down to it, though, he thinks baseball will survive and be strengthened by everything it endures.

"I'm not concerned that the era is being branded as the steroid era," he said. "It's unfortunate that the cloud of steroids has hung over baseball for a while, but it's also fortunate that it's hanging over it so it can be cleaned up and the integrity of the game can be put back to where it was. That process has begun. You can't snap your fingers and you can't make it all happen at once. There are measures in place -- good deterrents -- for anyone that's actually taking steroids or going in that direction."

Repeatedly, Ripken expressed reverence for the stars of the game that came before him and said that he's looking forward to joining the special fraternity of Hall of Famers. He said that many of his peers have told him that they appreciate their induction more the year after, when they can just enjoy the moment and forget about all of their responsibilities.

For now, Ripken is writing and editing his induction speech, hoping it touches on everyone and everything without being overbearing. He doesn't want to be preachy, but he wants to talk about the future of the game and how athletes can impact their fans. And more to the point, he wants to pay tribute to everyone that helped him get to the pinnacle of the sport.

"It's difficult in the fact that there are many thoughts that run through your head -- who you want to thank and how you want to thank them," he said. "You do want to keep it simple, but at the same time you don't want to spend a lot of time doing it. It's been challenging so far. The more you get into writing it and editing it, the more you think of other things.

"The big challenge has been to keep it to a shorter timeframe and a nice, tight message. ... When you sit down and reflect, writing is pretty hard work. You guys already know that, but I'm discovering it."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.