It all seemed so right. The Orioles long ago chose Thursday night to unveil Cal Ripken's statue at Oriole Park because of the obvious connection to what happened here on the same date 17 years ago, but they could not have known it would be so perfectly timed to coincide with the re-emergence of the team as a late-season contender and the start of a huge four-game series against the Yankees.
The significance certainly wasn't lost on Ripken, who used his edition of the Legends Celebration Series to forge a link between the Hall of Famers who will forever populate the plaza behind center field and the new generation of Orioles players who have responded so well to the leadership of Buck Showalter.
"It is really cool,"Ripken said. "I think it is really symbolic of the connection to Orioles history and the Oriole past. It's very appropriate that this team right here this year is playing so well and it's a huge series, so there's a lot of great excitement."
The original plan, of course, was to tap into the history of Camden Yards and the excitement that filled the Inner Harbor area for the 1995 series against the Angels that would feature the games in which Ripken tied and eclipsed Lou Gehrig's supposedly unassailable consecutive games streak. Instead, Ripken turned both the center field unveiling and the pregame ceremony into a total endorsement of this budding new era of Orioles baseball.
"The irony to me,"he said, "Sept. 6 in '95 I wanted so desperately for us to be in the race and playing for the pennant — playing for a playoff position — and we were a little bit further out at that time and the focus was on the games streak and it was important for us to play well as a team at that time and it was important for me to perform well at that time. It was not just OK to just show up. It was important to do well.
"So, coming in (this) Sept. 6, it feels really good to walk into that stadium and see the excitement and see that it's a big series in September with the Yankees and only one game separates the two teams, so certainly it adds to it. This is an exciting time for this team."
The fifth unveiling in the series again featured a who's who of Orioles history, including fellow legends in bronze Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and many members of the Orioles Hall of Fame. Ripken's statue portrays him in a classic pose, reaching far to his right in pursuit of a ball into the gap between short and third.
"The backhand kind of stretch play in the hole, I made that many times,'' Ripken said. "I was longer, I was rangier, I was bigger. That signified, or symbolized, a bigger person playing the position of shortstop and I was very proud of the success I had there."
The afternoon and evening was a total lovefest, with fans crowding around the center field plaza to hear Brady Anderson, Bill Ripken and Louis Angelos pay tribute to the Iron Man who had been immortalized in bronze. Then the stands filled up for the pre-game tribute and the opener of the four-game series against the Yankees.
After Ripken addressed the sellout crowd and threw out the ceremonial first pitch, the young Orioles quickly jacked up the volume with a four-run rally in the first inning. Adam Jones singled home a run and Matt Wieters sliced a high fly ball to left that barely cleared the fence just a few feet from the foul pole. His three-run homer evoked a roar reminiscent of the days when Ripken and Co. were leading the Orioles to back-to-back league championship series in 1996 and 1997 and the stands were full every night.
Wieters and his teammates seemed to sense the link that was forming in the Orioles' time-space continuum even before Ripken addressed the fans and the media.
"It's big because the last time we were able to be in this position, Cal was playing for the team," Wieters said. "It's something where he sort of set the standard for being an Orioles baseball player, showing up to play every day and just going out there and competing. I think that's kind of the mentality this team has taken this year. Every day is its own day. Just show up and be ready to go."
There has been a large team presence at each of the ceremonies, even though the unveilings would appear to conflict with the club's pregame routine. Obviously, Showalter wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love when our players go out there because they really get a reminder of what this place was like and could be like," he said. "All those guys embrace our guys. You can tell they are fans, not only of the game but of the Orioles organization, and they would like to see it get back to that."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.