Stepping Up to the Plate

for the week of July 9, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Cal Ripken Jr. has announced his retirement from baseball at the end of this season. It will be the conclusion to a marvelous 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. The man many call "baseball's reigning icon" will receive standing ovations from fans of opposing teams each time he makes his final appearance in a city. And Baltimore will give him kudos of the first magnitude.

Ripken is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He has been the American League's Most Valuable Player twice and was MVP of the All-Star Game once. But others have won more of these honors than he.

Ripken won't hold the record for most home runs either in a season or in a career when he retires. He won't have the highest batting average of anyone who has played the game. He will not have stolen the most bases. And his team success will not have put the most World Series rings on his fingers.

The key to the greatness of Cal Ripken Jr. is stamina, persistence, and tenacity. For more than two decades, he kept showing up and doing his job well. Shunning the free-agency market and choosing to build a long-term relationship with a city and a team, he is what U.S.News called "a throwback to the era when hard work and learning the fundamentals were valued."

So how does he want to be remembered? "I've always liked the baseball adjective ‘gamer,' " he offers. "A gamer to me is someone who comes to the ballpark ready to meet the challenge of the day, every day." And did he ever do that! In 1995 Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak of 2,130. Only at the end of the 1998 season did he take himself out of the line-up during the last home game of the year — after establishing an astounding new record of 2,632 games. Many experts believe it is a record that is unlikely ever to be broken.

Some people won't work with pain they could endure. Others never overcome a dream delayed or denied. And some refuse to work through troubled relationships. They just quit. Thus they never know the thrill of success.

The most successful person you know probably isn't the smartest, best-looking, or most-talented in the world. But he kept showing up. She believed in her dream. He stayed with it. She wanted it badly enough to keep trying.

Sports fan or not, Cal's vivid term is one we can all work harder to model. Gamer: one who meets the challenge of the day, every day.

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