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Team travel is not what it used to be, anyway. "With all the money in the game today," Sutcliffe says, "guys routinely go their own way—take their own car or cab." The Orioles' bus to a recent game in Boston carried only two players among its passengers. Ripken is pleased with the separate arrangements so far—he hasn't needed to change his alias all season—and so are his teammates. "The crowds at our hotels have gone way down now that the word's out that Cal's not there," pitcher Gregg Olson says.
"In my career I've seen the game change from a sport to an entertainment industry," Ripken says. "There's a whole different atmosphere at our new stadium than there was at Memorial Stadium. People come to be entertained." What he wants to be is a shortstop, and what he has become, regrettably, is a celebrity—his stardom both defined and tainted by the mere act of doing his job every day for more than 11 years.
At 9:30 on the morning of June 7, Ripken could not walk across his bedroom without having pain shoot through his swollen right knee. He had injured it the previous day in a brawl between the Orioles and the Seattle Mariners. As he had turned to free himself from the melee, his spikes had caught in the infield grass at Camden Yards, and he heard a popping sound in his right knee. One thought came to mind: "That's it. Surgery tomorrow."
Upon awakening the next morning, he was more sure of it. "Kelly," he said to his wife, "I don't think I can play tonight."
"Can you play for just an inning?" she asked.
Ripken, in wonderment, replied, "You too?"
"I thought," Kelly said in a whisper, "it was so important to you."
"If I can't play, I can live with that," he said. "I'm not going to play just for that. If it ends because of this, I'll be at peace with myself. I can accept it."
Ripken took two hours of treatment at Camden Yards. Then he took batting practice in the indoor cage under the supervision of one of the club physicians. It did not go well. "It was as close as I ever came to not playing," he says. Of course, he did play—naturally, he didn't even miss infield practice—reaching base three times in four plate appearances and making a long throw off his right leg in the ninth inning to protect a one-run lead.
Two days later, expecting a breaking ball from Oakland Athletic righthander Bob Welch, he leaned over the plate and got whacked with a fastball on his left wrist. Later that inning he slammed A's catcher Terry Steinbach in a collision at the plate with such force that Steinbach left the game dazed. Ripken was fine.