On the eve of the Baltimore Orioles' season opener against the Kansas City Royals, roughly 18 hours before he would play in his 2,010th consecutive major league game, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and several other Orioles visited former teammate Rick Sutcliffe at his suburban Kansas City house. Sutcliffe has an outdoor basketball court, and, naturally, the 6'4" Ripken couldn't resist. He buried some jump shots and then threw down a few dunks, although he didn't slam as effortlessly as he usually does. "I was wearing a suit," he said, "and dress shoes."
Obviously, the 34-year-old Ripken isn't taking extraordinary measures to shield himself from injury as he enters the last leg of his march on Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played. And he continues to prepare for each game as if it were his first. At 9:15 the next morning—still 4� hours before the first pitch of the season at Kauffman Stadium—Ripken asked to use the Royals' indoor batting cage. "I'll be out as soon as you like," Ripken said to Kansas City coach Gene Mauch, who smiled and replied, "Take all the time you want."
The extra BP didn't do Ripken any good, as Royal starter Kevin Appier fired 6? hitless innings and three K.C. relievers combined to allow just two hits the rest of the way in Kansas City's 5-1 victory. Ripken struck out three times and walked in his four plate appearances. But, more important, his streak continued after the players' strike had put it in jeopardy.
For Royal centerfielder Tom Goodwin, who was 13 when Ripken began his streak on May 30, 1982, last week's opener was his first game against Ripken. "It was a thrill," said Goodwin. "Something like this happens only once in your life." In the first inning Ripken took a hit away from Goodwin with a nice play on a one-hopper hit over second base. Goodwin walked in the third, but then he was tagged out by Ripken on a steal attempt. "I wasn't too thrilled when he made that play or when he tagged me out," Goodwin said. "I was thinking, Why doesn't he take a day off?"
After Goodwin singled in the sixth he was picked off first, only to reach second safely when Baltimore first baseman Rafael Palmeiro threw low to Ripken covering the bag. Goodwin slid in hard, accidentally spiking Ripken on the left arm. (No harm done, of course.) "I was hoping I didn't draw any blood," said Goodwin. "Then I watched the replay, and he gave me a forearm shiver on that play. I'm going to have to talk to him about that...just kidding." And what if Goodwin had injured Ripken badly enough to end the streak? "I'd never go to Baltimore," he said. "I'd skip that trip. I'm not going to put that man out. He's a legend."
That's how Ripken will be regarded by baseball fans across the country during the 1995 season. After pregame practice on Opening Day, Ripken ran to the stands in leftfield to greet a fan who was holding up an orange-and-black street sign that read CAL RIPKEN AVE. The man, who said he had collected 1,100 pieces of Ripken memorabilia, offered the sign to Cal in return for a picture with his hero. Ripken helped the man out of the stands and posed with him. "He went to a lot of trouble to give me that sign," said Ripken. "I just wanted to give him the best picture possible."
There is no street named after Ripken as yet, but should he break Gehrig's record, who knows? He's prepared.