As the Orioles begin their 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.
20. Wieters’ debut
19. Nomo tosses only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
16. Showalter takes the helm
15. Palmeiro homers in Oriole debut
14. Griffey’s Warehouse shot
13. Sparring with Seattle
12. Davis defies the odds
11. Hoiles’ slam stuns Mariners
10. Game 6 of 1997 ALCS
9. 1993 All-Star Game
8. Moose misses perfection
7. Eddie comes home
6. Bonilla’s slam in first playoff win
5. The first Opening Day
4. Birds shrink Big Unit to win 1997 ALDS
3. No. 500 for Eddie
2. Farewell to Cal – Oct. 6, 2001
You know it’s not a typical game when your team is wearing special commemorative patches and the league ordered special baseballs for the occasion. Despite entering the night with 97 losses and closing out a miserable season on the field, the Orioles hosted the Boston Red Sox with all the glitz and hype of a postseason game, or at least Opening Day.
After all, it wasn’t going to be easy saying goodbye to Cal Ripken.
On June 19, Ripken announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, which led to a memorable farewell tour as the future Hall of Famer was honored in ballparks throughout the league, proving the entire baseball was just as appreciative to Maryland’s favorite son.
However, Baltimore was going to give Cal Ripken a farewell unlike any other after his 21 years with the club he grew up rooting for as a kid in nearby Aberdeen. Ripken was much more than a great player, a Hall of Famer, or one of the best to ever play the game. He was an icon, not just in the Charm City but everywhere.
The Orioles had originally been scheduled to play their final series of the year at Yankee Stadium, but the tragic events of September 11 had canceled a week’s worth of games as the nation mourned the many deaths in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. As a result, the final game of the season would take place on a memorable Saturday night at Camden Yards.
The flashbulbs popped with Ripken’s every move, reminiscent of the night six year earlier when Orioles fans showed more adulation for a professional athlete than had ever been witnessed anywhere else. The game itself was forgettable as Boston won 5-1, but none of that mattered as the 48,807 on hand wanted a final glimpse of their hometown hero.
Ripken went 0 for 3 against Red Sox starter David Cone despite fans trying to will the 41-year-old to one more memorable moment. In the bottom of the eighth, he came to the plate for the final time in his career, a moment Orioles fans will never forget as Ripken flew out to center.
As the game moved to the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles tried to get Ripken to the plate one more time as Brady Anderson — also playing in his final game as an Oriole — stepped in against Boston closer Ugueth Urbina. With Ripken waiting on deck and the fans firmly behind Anderson, Urbina struck him out to end the game and the career of No. 8.
A dejected Anderson walked to the dugout, but the dramatic finish made for intriguing theater. It was the epitome of the old adage of leaving the crowd wanting more.
The post-game ceremony was a made-for-TV event with the stadium lights extinguished and the spotlight on Ripken for a final curtain call on the last night in which he’d wear an Orioles uniform. His final words to the faithful at Camden Yards, “The House that Cal Built,” were heartfelt but unassuming. Typical Cal.
“One question I’ve been repeatedly asked these past few weeks is, ‘How do I want to be remembered?’ My answer has been simple: to be remembered at all is pretty special. I might also add that if, if I am remembered, I hope it’s because, by living my dream, I was able to make a difference.”
A difference made, indeed. For Orioles fans of all ages, but particularly those who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, Ripken defined what it meant to be an Oriole in the same way Brooks Robinson had done a generation earlier. Simply put, Ripken was the Orioles for fans too young to enjoy the glory days of three world championships, six league pennants, and the fruits of the Oriole Way.
His departure not only symbolized the end of an era and the last link to the franchise’s glory days, but it sparked feelings similar to the ones felt by fans who witnessed Robinson’s farewell in 1977.
It was never going to be the same.
Players come and go, hits and strikeouts fade from memory, but you never forget how the special ones made you feel.