I took a very special trip this past weekend. I finally made my pil- grimage to Camden Yards, the home of Cal Ripken Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles.
Now, being a sports fan in Virginia, this seems like sacrilege, considering Baltimore has never been more than four hours away from me at any point in my life. So when my friend Keith told me he had scored some 10th row seats to see one of Cal's last home games, I knew this was my calling; I had to finally make the journey to Camden.
I mean, I had plans lined up for the weekend and everything and actually considered passing on this chance. Luckily, Keith had better sense than to let my slack ass miss a sports moment.
"Ben," he said to me, "have you ever seen Cal play in the whole time you've lived here?"
"Sure, sure," I said. "Lots of times on Home Team Sports/Comcast Sports Net."
"Dude, come ON! They're playing the Yankees. And when are you ever going to have a chance to see something like this again? You've got to go see Cal before he retires," Keith said.
And, of course, he was right. Prior to Friday's game, I had been to only one game in old Tiger Stadium, back when Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were turning double plays for Detroit. Now Alan's son, Bubba, is a couple of years deep in his own professional baseball career, so I thought it was about time for me to see my second MLB game.
We got the worst part of the trip out of the way early - the drive. Of all of the trips I have taken in my short life, this drive had to be the worst. I knew Route 29 to Route 66 could be a female dog on Fridays, but I have never seen delays like the one on I-495 North to Baltimore. Road rage hit me harder than the Virginia defense hit Clemson players on Saturday. But we made it without punching any fellow drivers, even after losing the reception to the "Opie and Anthony" show.
Following an excellent dining experience with a friend at a Loyola College "dining hall" (imagine a small Harris Teeter with made-to-order entrees that blows the Pav out of the water), we jumped in a cab and headed toward the Inner Harbor.
The Harbor itself was a sight to behold. The last time I saw the Inner Harbor was when I was 14. I remembered it being comparable to a place back home, Norfolk's Waterside, with the Philip's Seafood Restaurant, Boardwalk Fries and gaudy, gold-colored tokens to ride the ferry. Friday, my eyes could barely make it past the monstrosity that is the ESPN Sportszone to view the rest of the Harbor. The lights, the architecture, the atmosphere ... It was all pretty breathtaking.
Then we turned down West Camden Street and chills ran down my spine. Viewing the warehouse beyond the right field bleachers was even more amazing than observing the brilliance of the Louvre (sorry, Mom). After seeing Camden Yards and the distance between the park and the warehouse, I understood how amazing it was for Ken Griffey Jr. to hit a home run off of that hallowed brick wall.
Cal also lived up to my every expectation. Ripken was greeted at every at-bat with a rousing standing ovation from the crowd. In the bottom of the third, we erupted as Ripken sent a shot down the left-field line, scoring two runs with his 16th double of the year, which put Baltimore up, 4-1.
Cal dazzled us again, this time in the field. Ripken made a great stop at third to save a hit and showed everyone that he still hasn't lost a step. Watching this first-ballot Hall of Famer in action was truly spectacular.
The game was amazing in its own right. I saw Mike Mussina pitch for the Yanks, and saw Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius homer in the ninth to take the lead. Yet the Orioles still won. Jerry Hairston hit a Mariano Rivera fastball off of Martinez's glove to score the tying and winning runs. The images of the crowd going crazy after that win may be my first memory of Camden Yards, but it certainly won't be my last.