For this lifetime baseball fan, before there were the Phillies there were the Orioles.
Growing up in Baltimore, rooting for Brooks Robinson, still the only player in a baseball uniform I idolized, living and dying with every win and loss, I remained faithful to the home team despite my peregrinations around the country. Eventually, I was driven into the arms of the Phillies by proximity and disdain for the O's current owner and his ruinous handling of a once-admired franchise.
Before that final conversion, Cal Ripken was the transitional player for me, marking the end of the franchise as I had known it -- competitive, admirable - and the one that would eventually replace it -- woeful and dysfunctional. Ripken, literally a member of the Orioles' family with a pedigree, began what turned out to be his Iron Man streak a year before Robinson would be elected to the Hall of Fame. Now, a quarter of a century later, he joins his legendary teammate as the third great infielder to wear an Orioles cap upon his induction, Eddie Murray being the other one.
Ripken will always be remembered for The Streak and for his dedication to the game, its history as well as its craft. But if a single image of him endures, it will be the "celebration" lap he took around the perimeter of Camden Yards that night in 1995 when he broke Lou Gehrig's record. With baseball still reeling from the strike that disrupted the game the year before, driving many long-time fans from the stands and the game, it was Ripken's slow jog around the stadium that night, literally reaching out and up to the fans who had applauded his work ethic, that is generally credited with beginning the healing process.
For all I know Ripken may have planned the lap in advance, but to the blue collar fans in my blue collar home town, it was a genuine and spontaneous gesture of affection. And to the millions of viewers who tuned in to watch that night, it was a welcome salve that smoothed over the gulf that had grown between the wealthy young men who play the game and the ordinary fans who cheered them on.
Baseball has never looked back since that day, except in gratitude. Today, they made their gratitude and appreciation official.