This coming Sunday (September 6th) the Baltimore Orioles will celebrate the 25-year anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the consecutive games played streak. Known to locals and to Orioles fans simply as “2131.” It’s a moment that will be seared into the collective memories of anyone of a certain age in Baltimore forver.
To those of us who are of the aforementioned age, we can put it into certain or specific terms. When you say 2131, numbers on the warehouse, the streak, or the lap around the field, we all know what you mean. The numbers on the warehouse were probably my favorite part of it in the lead up. As each game became official they’d add an additional consecutive game played to the tally. Obviously the big one being 2131.
But obviously the lasting memory of that night and the entire thing was Cal taking the lap around the field. At times Baltimore is called “Smalltimore;” in the sense that it’s either a small town in the form of a big city, or a big city in the form of a small town. A lot of people know one another, and it seems like no matter who you run into or meet, you can find a connection or a common friend.
Cal’s also unique in that he didn’t just “play here.” He’s from here. So when he took that lap around the field that night after breaking the record, he had a personal relationship with a lot of the people in the stands with whom he exchanged handshakes and high-fives. People across baseball talk glowingly about 2131, but that lap around the field was something special. It was a uniquely Baltimore moment.
And it’s tough for me to believe that it’ll be 25 years this Sunday. I remember watching the game that night with my family, and being so proud that my all-time favorite player and my boyhood hero was the one breaking the record. And frankly, it’s a record that belongs in a city like Baltimore. A tough old blue collar town in which people work hard everyday and put their best foot forward. That record represents the type of city Baltimore is.
A lot of people have different memories of that night, but mine will always be the lap around the field. And of course Cal’s home run. Who else, but Cal Ripken Jr., would homer not only in the game in which he tied the record, but also the one in which he broke it? There’s also another moment from that night which resonates with me: his Dad (Cal Ripken Sr.) watching from the box. Cal Ripken Sr. passed a few years following 2131, and I think we all have images of our deceased kind of watching us from above. That personified that image in my mind. And it’s powerful.
Now pushing 40, the memories of that night still give me shivers down my spine. I suppose I’m still a bit stunned when I hear people younger than I talk about 2131 as simply a historical moment. It’s not – it was “the moment” of my lifetime and in those of my contemporaries with regards to this team. Anyone of a certain age gets it! All Hall of Famers belong to the game and the fans – all fans. But Cal’s special. He’s the Iron Man. He belongs to all fans, but he belongs to Baltimore first. Baltimore of course being where he played, and his hometown.