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BURTONSVILLE — For Baltimore Orioles legend and Hall of Fame player, Cal Ripken, Jr., one of the favorite memories he has had in his 20-year major league baseball career was beating the New York Yankees in a late-season series in the Bronx.
Ripken said there was almost no better feeling he had had in his career than beating the Orioles’ perennial rival, the Yankees, to the anger and dismay of New York fans – something Ripken always took glee in.
“You beat them in their place and you get on the bus and everybody crowds around the bus and they’re all yelling at you, and they’re telling you – You are number one – and they’re using a different finger,” Ripken recalled. “But leaving the parking lot and looking back, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes over you. That’s probably one of the better feelings.”
Ripken made an appearance at the Roy Rogers restaurant in Burtonsville on Tuesday, as part of a partnership with the fast-food chain to help support the charity named in honor of Ripken’s late father, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.
As part of the promotion with the Roy Rogers chain, Ripken has toured parts of the East signing autographs and taking photos with fans. He made one such stop at the one in Burtonsville on Old Columbia Pike Tuesday.
The crowds were much friendlier than the less warm goodbyes of Yankees fans that gathered around his team bus after New York lost at the hands of the Orioles, as it was an opportunity for many baseball fans to meet one of the greats.
People lined up outside around the restaurant for hours to meet Ripken. They brought cards, photos, posters, jerseys and even stadium seats for the Orioles legend to sign. A crowd of fans – most of them wearing the Orioles’ colors of black and orange – surrounded and packed the restaurant.
Kids played T-ball games, while their parents waited in line for an opportunity for a photo and autograph with Ripken. Even 17 years after his playing career ended, at the age of 58, Ripken’s appearance Tuesday drew a large crowd, some of whom were too young to have watched or remembered Ripken’s Hall of Fame career with the Orioles – which Ripken said meant a lot to him.
“It makes you feel good that there was some sort of meaning in your baseball career,” Ripken said.
While Ripken posted a stat line that included 431 home runs, 3,184 hits, in his 20-year career with the Orioles, fans said they did not cite career-statistics, which are generally idolized as part of the game’s long history as with many Hall of Fame players, but instead praised Ripken’s work ethic and character.
Iris Hepburn, a longtime Orioles fan from Silver Spring, likened Ripken to one of the players from the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” saying Ripken’s fame went beyond baseball.
“There’s a lot of things about baseball that touch me, that touch my heart,” Hepburn said. “And he’s one of those kind of players that’s like a dream player.”
Chris Russell, who travelled from Calvert County for the autograph session, said the stat from Ripken’s career that most impressed him was Ripken’s consecutive games played streak – a record that Ripken still holds.
In 1995, Ripken surpassed Yankee great Lou Gehrig, playing in 2,131 consecutive Major League Baseball games, a record that many thought would be unbreakable. The streak earned Ripken his famous moniker, “Iron Man,” for his durability and work ethic as a player.
“It just shows dedication, it shows commitment, it shows a lot of things you don’t see in players these days,” Russell said.
Post-career, Ripken has tried to stay active within the game of baseball.
After the autograph session, Ripken admitted in a question-and-answer session with fans that many players struggle to find something to do after retirement, saying that for many former players the off-season is now year-round.
Ripken’s answer to retirement has been to immerse himself in the game of baseball. He stays around the game, often working with his foundation, which uses baseball and other sports as a way to connect at-risk youth with adult mentors.
Ripken has also traveled abroad to promote the game, lending his family’s name to the wooden bat collegiate league that includes local teams such as the Bethesda Big Train and Rockville Express, and serves on a committee with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
While baseball as a sport pales in popularity relative to other sports, such as football and basketball, Ripken said to grow the game is about exposing kids to it – something to which he has dedicated his post-playing career.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of marketing baseball, so much as is I think it is exposing kids to baseball, and I think we try to do our part,” Ripken said.