When Cal Ripken Jr. performed within the first recreation at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992, he was the defending American League Most Valuable Player and the face of Baltimore’s franchise. That recreation marked his 1,574th straight, effectively on his method to breaking Lou Gehrig’s report for consecutive video games — and doing so, in 1995, at Camden Yards.
He not goes to the ballpark each day. But the enduring Ironman, who performed in 2,632 straight video games, has discovered himself there extra this season than he did just a few years in the past, entertained by the thrilling Orioles.
Ripken was the primary hero of Camden Yards. Now, he has a front-row seat to one of the best Orioles workforce the ballpark has seen, no less than so far as the win-loss report is worried, as they’ve amassed nail-biting wins and memorable moments throughout a splashy 2023 marketing campaign.
“They are a fun, fun team to watch,” he mentioned.
Ripken is one among baseball historical past’s heroes and is uniquely heralded in Baltimore. “An icon, a legend, a guy that put the spikes on every single day for a long time in a row,” is how Orioles veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson characterised him.
A fan of the Orioles rising up in Aberdeen and since his retirement from baseball in 2001, Ripken has seats close to the house dugout and lauds the workforce’s younger expertise, chemistry and “the way they play in one-run games.” That’s made him come out to the ballpark and watch on TV extra this season.
“They don’t give up when they fall behind,” Ripken mentioned.
After dropping greater than 100 video games in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the Orioles impressed with an above .500 report final yr and exploded this season by successful 101 video games, their most since 1979, even earlier than Ripken turned a staple of the Baltimore infield.
They obtained a bye by way of this season’s first spherical of the playoffs and can host Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Saturday, the primary postseason recreation at Camden Yards in 9 years.
When the Orioles are this good, the town hangs on to each pitch, each recreation — an “everyday relevance,” as Ripken described it.
“You want to find out what happened yesterday. If you’re not able to watch the game or you’re not able to go to the game, you get to a point where: What’d they do last night? And who did it?” Ripken mentioned.
For the primary 9 years of Camden Yards’ existence, the Orioles averaged no less than 40,000 followers per recreation, and whereas that quantity dwindled because the workforce posted 14 straight dropping seasons from 1998 to 2011, this yr has seen a resurgence in curiosity with a median of 23,911.
Although that determine is under league common, it marks the workforce’s greatest since 2017. And whereas MLB noticed a 9% enhance in common attendance this season as in comparison with 2022, Baltimore boasted a 36% soar.
“I was lucky enough to play the first 10 years or so of Camden Yards and that atmosphere was there every night,” Ripken mentioned. “And then it went away for a little while, but it’s good to see it back. From a fan’s perspective, I like being in that environment. I like being there where you can get caught up in the emotion of the game.”
The most wonderful side of this yr’s membership, in Ripken’s estimation, is their lack of nerves.
“In close ballgames, stress situations at the end of a game, they seem to be calm and are executing at a very high level,” he mentioned.
Asked if there’s any participant he notably enjoys watching, Ripken first pointed to Gunnar Henderson. Tall, power-hitting shortstops drafted within the second spherical out of highschool and certain Rookie of the Year winners, Ripken and Henderson are virtually mirror photos to some — actually, Henderson hits left-handed whereas Ripken was a righty. In actuality, they’re totally different gamers, after all, together with of their placement within the subject. While Ripken performed third base solely later in his profession, Henderson performs each positions on the left facet of the infield usually.
“Selfishly, I’d like to see him play a little more shortstop. I like the way he plays the position,” Ripken mentioned.
The Orioles remind Ripken a little bit of the 1983 World Series workforce and in addition of the 1989 “Why Not?” membership. That group, Ripken remembered, “caught fire.”
“When I think about that team, there are a lot of characteristics with this young, talented team, although I would say this team, probably, from a talent standpoint, had more than we did,” he mentioned.
Given that expertise, paired with youth — Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman, whom Ripken praised for his capacity to work with pitchers, are all 25 or youthful — it’s tempting to consider the Orioles of the longer term. The membership appears poised to, after years of dismal performances, compete within the coming years.
But Ripken cautioned in opposition to considering too far forward. “Let’s enjoy the moment,” he mentioned.
“Focus on where you are now and execute,” Ripken mentioned, “and hopefully get to the World Series and get one back for the city of Baltimore.”