It was the night the baseball world stopped.
Now, 25 years after Cal Ripken Jr. helped restore our love for baseball, he is back, reminding us that as we face these difficult times, hope awaits and we can celebrate together again, as on the night of September 6 1995.
"This is such a difficult time for all of us," says Ripken to USA TODAY Sports, "but even with all the challenges, I am very optimistic. I look for innovation. Distilleries have become hand-disinfection facilities. Automakers became fan manufacturers. People pushed their ideas toward resources to help.
"Everyone is working together."
It has been 159 days since we last had a real Major League baseball game, and it will take at least a few months, perhaps until 2021, with the coronavirus pandemic ending the world of sports.
But Tuesday night on ESPN, Ripken will try to relive those feelings, emotions and romanticism that made us fall in love with baseball, playing in his 2,131th consecutive game, eclipsing the legendary Lou Gehrig.
"It was a bigger night than Cal and Lou Gehrig," said Hall of Fame host Chris Berman, who worked on the game for ESPN. "It was a sacred night not only for baseball, not just for sports, but also for the United States."
Ripken and Berman will celebrate the game with the launch of BBTN Live on ESPN (Baseball Tonight Live), a weekly digital pre-game program that will air classic baseball games called MLB Encore on Tuesdays. Ripken and Berman will discuss their memories before the game, and Ripken again in the fifth round on ESPN's social media platforms. The game will be shown again on ESPN at 7pm. ET.
Ripken, for its part, will enter the universe of Twitter for the first time as @CalRipkenJr. He will use the platform to announce that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will launch the Strike Out Hunger campaign during this pandemic, contributing $ 250,000 to its partners.
It was a blur:Sid Bream relives magical moment
"It looks like 9/11," says Ripken, which happened three weeks before the end of his career. “It rocked everyone. You are sitting there, incredulous. You want to do everything you can to help in any way you can.
"I think if baseball can come back, as we did back then, it can provide some healing, a distraction and allow people to focus on some of the good things in life."
This is the first time in 25 years that Major League Baseball has lost its traditional opening day, but that was only because of a labor dispute between players and owners. The Ripken streak was two days away, when the owners and players ended the 232-day strike and the threat of using substitute players.
"I remember Mark Belanger (from the players' association) told me that he thought it would be good if I played with the substitute players because of my streak," said Ripken. "I wouldn't do that. I never thought about it. There was a clear sense of responsibility. If the sequence ended for that reason, it was still the right thing to do. & # 39; & # 39;
President Bill Clinton was present at the record game. The excellent Joe DiMaggio, of the New York Yankees, Gehrig's companion, was there. The same happened with Frank Robinson, his former manager. And former Orioles Hall of Fame, great Earl Weaver. And, of course, his family, was among the crowd of 46,272 crowded.
The game became official at the end of the fifth round. The crowd stood and roared, refusing to stop.
He saw his father, Cal Ripken Sr. in a suite, punched his right fist, gestured with his left hand and started to cry. He went to the stands to see his family, took off his shirt and handed it to them, revealing that he was wearing the black T-shirt with white letters that he was presented with that morning: 2,130 hugs and kisses for Dad.
"I didn't watch much of it in full," says Ripken, "because I didn't want to change my perspective. The most powerful part was the ovation and the return. You remember so many memories along the way. The people I recognized by the face, some by name, and the celebration seemed very intimate. You can relate to the crowd individually.
"And seeing my father in the sky box, drawing attention, you could feel a million emotions between us."
Berman and ESPN color commentator Buck Martinez never said a word during the entire celebration, allowing the photos to capture the scene.
"We get paid to talk and win an Emmy without saying anything," says Berman. "But we couldn't have talked if we wanted to."
Ripken sat back and remembered everything during an hour-long phone conversation over the weekend at his home in Maryland. The truth about the series is that it was never about taking Gehrig. Never about reaching historical numbers. It was about pride, just getting up, getting dressed and going to work every day.
"People called me selfish when I kept playing," says Ripken, "and I laugh. It was never about Gehrig's record. I never wanted to be in line to break it. I grew up believing that I should go to the stadium every day. ready to play, and if the manager wrote your name in the lineup, you played it. I was there to win my day. "
Ripken went on to play three more seasons without taking a day off after that night, with the streak of consecutive games ending in 2,632 games on September 28, 1998. No one has played even 550 consecutive games since the series ended. Kansas City Royals field player Whit Merifield has the longest running streak in 247 games, just ahead of Oakland Athletics court marker Marcus Semien, who started 243 consecutive games.
"It's different now," says Ripken. “The definition of an ordinary player is not touched every day. There are 145 games. Or 150. Everything is so analytical now that managers want to periodically rest to get the best out of them. "
Now, here we are 25 years later, and we will watch 2,131 again, celebrating as if it were the first time we saw balloons flying in the air, fireworks screaming in the night, the warehouse number changing and Ripken trotting around the outer field .
One day, baseball will be played again. Maybe even this year. If they can squeeze in 81 regular season games, says Ripken, at least that could be representative of a season.
But for now, all we have are memories, with hopes that we can all celebrate together again, just as we did on the night of September 6, 1995.
"I hope people will have the same feeling 25 years later," says Berman, "a feeling of hope and unity. I am thrilled just to talk about it.
"And for this game to be shown now, with what this nation and the world are going through, the timing couldn't be better.
"We need this. & # 39; & # 39;
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale