SI Vault
The Long Haul
Leigh Montville
April 24, 2000
Having reached yet another milestone—this time 3,000 hits—the enduring Cal Ripken Jr. can again concentrate on his strength, playing the game day by day
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April 24, 2000

The Long Haul

Having reached yet another milestone—this time 3,000 hits—the enduring Cal Ripken Jr. can again concentrate on his strength, playing the game day by day

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Cal Ripken Jr.












Robin Yount




Eddie Murray




Lou Brock




Al Kaline




*Through Sunday

His wife and two children have left him alone. They've come to Minneapolis, just in case the deed is finally done, just in case Cal Ripken Jr. collects his 3,000th career hit on the carpet of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome this weekend, but they have left the hotel suite early for two straight days. He has been asleep as the door closed, locked in his routine.

"So where did we go for these two straight days?" his wife, Kelly, asks their 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, on Saturday, filling in the blanks of their schedule.

" Mall of America," Rachel replies.

"And what did we do? We didn't go to one store, did we?"

"We rode all the rides. Both days."

So while his wife and daughter and six-year-old son, Ryan, have been flipped and tossed, shot down water flumes and whipped into Tilt-a-Whirl dizziness, Cal, the Baltimore Orioles' third baseman, has dealt with his own loss of equilibrium by trying to maintain a routine. This 3,000-hit thing has been harder than he thought it would be. He needed nine hits when the season began, and Saturday night's game will be the 11th of the year, and still he needs three.

"In this kind of situation the battle isn't so much with the pitcher and whatever he throws," Ripken says. "It's with yourself. Baseball is a game best played in a normal environment. You can't get too high or too low. I've been running too high, thinking about all of this."

His approach is to try to collect himself, to breathe deeply, to let 20 years in the big leagues, all those appearances in All-Star Games and postseason games, take control. Go with the flow. On Friday night, swinging the bat well, he had gotten only one hit in four at bats, the three outs lined shots hit straight into Minnesota Twins gloves. That's baseball.

On Saturday night, well, this is baseball, too. There's a bloop into rightfield in the fourth inning off righthander Sean Bergman for hit number 2,998. There's a chop off Bergman the next inning, pounded into the artificial turf, bouncing maybe 30 feet high so there's no play for Twins third baseman Corey Koskie, for hit 2,999. There's a one-ball, no-strike count against righthanded reliever Hector Carrasco in the seventh. Carrasco tries to come inside on Ripken with a fastball but leaves it in the middle of the plate. Ripken rides with the pitch, his bat arriving even and steady. The ball heads in a straight line to center-field, no doubt, no argument, about what has happened.

Thirty-nine-year-old legs linked to a recently repaired back take a future Hall of Famer to first base safely for his 3,000th hit. He knows the way. He has traveled it as much as anyone.

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