There is something grounding in streaks, clusters of similar events that come in many flavors. In the early days of fatherhood, I would amuse myself (for the sake of sanity) keeping my fatherly ledger of: blown out diapers when you are just strapping in the minivan; shoes kicked off in the back seat when you are in a hurry; number of meals gone cold by the time you got to eat.
These days it’s different: the number of times offspring pull into the driveway safe and sound tops the list.
But there is a streak that is forever acknowledged in each of the boys’ rooms: Cal Ripken Jr’s baseball longevity streak of consecutive games played. Over 16 years, 2632 games in a row, Cal showed up and gave his all no matter what. Having a tangible example of some of the important things in life is powerful. Even more so when you actually get to meet someone you look up to…
On a very rainy day, we headed to Baltimore to see an Orioles game– the boys very first baseball game. It rained before we left, poured on I-95, and a deluge followed us to our hotel. Then, baseball magic… the sun came out just before game time. Game on! But our plan of watching batting practice and getting to field level for autographs of their favorite players was washed out.
The game and the experience were memorable, captured in Melanie’s photos of two happy boys smiling and wearing their gloves, sure that a ball was coming our way. But as we said our good-byes to Camden Yards and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor disappointment surfaced in the form of “we didn’t get a ball or any autographs.”
In that moment, the Baltimore sun was not a newspaper, but a shining ray of hope on a larger than life figure straight ahead. “Is that Cal Ripken Jr.?” A gentleman overheard the boys and asked, “Sure is, you wanna meet him?”
Cal left his post where he was pitching a golf product and greeted the boys warmly and genuinely. He lowered his huge frame and got down to eye level with each boy. He talked with them, asked about their lives, asked if they wanted a picture and an autograph. He graciously took the time to accommodate us and the makings of a keepsake.
But what was most worth the sake of keeping was a hero that did not disappoint. And in a few moments, he presented what leaders and role models do. Boys need more than their dads and moms to get a deep understanding of what he means to be a person of value and principle.
Cal stayed in place and waved the boys off like he was sending them to school. Justin, who recently had done a biography at school on Cal, turned and waved and said, “Oh, by the way, happy birthday Mr. Ripken.” Cal’s face was priceless, as memorable as the picture that has been a reminder of the value of “showing up” for over 4000 days.