And that's his real link with this town, with the people in the row houses. City councilman Martin O'Malley (who is to local politics what Cal was to baseball as Rookie of the Year) represents those old, tight streets around the silent Memorial Stadium. "People here don't care where he lives," O'Malley says. "Or how. They don't want him to be blue collar. And they're not waiting with bated breath for him to pass Lou Gehrig. You know, the city can ebb and flow. We've got racial divisions. We're best known for Homicide on TV. The population's at its lowest point since World War I. But number 8's still trottin' out to shortstop. People see that. He never gave up on them."
Cal does hit another home run. Two dingers on Fotoball Night—how 'bout that? But it isn't enough, not when the rest of the lineup hits nothin', and the O's give away three or four runs. Toronto six, O's three—final. The Orioles have departed second place, heading south.
It promises to be a somber clubhouse scene when the writers are admitted 10 minutes after the O's last strikeout. The pack makes for the manager's interview room. I am hunting Cal, still with my Fotoball, still without avail. Often after games he'll sit for a while in the lounge—players only—to talk about the game. But tonight it looks like the rest of the guys are getting dressed, heading out. Coaches, too. It is almost 11 o'clock. I watch Cal's corner. A camera crew, for mysterious reasons, is filming his locker, shining a minicam spotlight onto his shoes, his chair, his uniform shirts. (Maybe it's another Jumbotron tribute. Maybe they'll make this one scratch-'n'-sniff.)
"Check the field." This is whispered in my ear in the locker room. "He's out there. You better check it out."
I go out through the tunnel, under the empty stands. Except they aren't empty. There are thousands of people, all standing, looking down at the rail where Cal Ripken is signing Fotoballs.
Cal has one foot on the rubberized warning track, one foot on the padding of the rail. He has his own felt-tip. And he is signing—correctly, of course, down to the Jr and the period after his name. (Then he blows on his signature to make sure it won't smudge.) There are city cops around him and two dozen ushers to keep the crowd in line. But mostly they just stand there grinning. This is just Cal and the fans.
"Cal, would you put 'From B.J. to Kristin'?"
"Kristin with a K?"
"K-R-I-S-T-I-N.... Thanks, Cal."
"You're welcome," Cal says.