BALTIMORE -- For Cal Ripken Jr., Tuesday was yet another opportunity to take the field at Camden Yards, despite whatever was physically ailing him.
Ripken -- on hand for the ceremonial first pitch as the Orioles paid tribute to his iconic moment in playing in his Major League-record 2,131st consecutive game -- had a biking accident earlier in the day and flipped over his handle bars, jamming his right shoulder. As he relayed the story to the large group of media on hand for the 20th anniversary celebration of Sept. 6, 1995, the Iron Man couldn't help but quip: "I still would have played."
Yes, much has changed from Ripken's record-breaking moment two decades ago. His little kids are now in their 20s, he no longer fits in that black-and-orange uniform and, occasionally, he has to tell some of the children he's involved with in the Cal Ripken World Series to Google him. Ripken -- as he warned in his press conference -- also threw his pitch, to former teammate Brady Anderson, from about halfway to the mound. But in some cases it seems like 2,131 was just yesterday: that ovation, the gestures to his father, the late Cal Ripken Sr., and that iconic lap around Oriole Park.
"That's kind of hit me hard the last week or two, when I've been reminiscing about it; lost Dad way too early," Ripken said of Senior, who passed away March 25, 1999. "It was good to see some of the interviews and see him come to life, to me. It was just a wonderful celebration -- one you couldn't choreograph, you can't plan out, make right."
Ripken was pushed by several teammates to make the lap, the only move he admitted Tuesday was probably pre-planned. But as Ripken, who turned 55 last week, looks back on another milestone of the streak, he's proud to be known for it. A World Series championship, American League MVP Award and numerous All-Star Games are nice on the resume, but Ripken is OK with being known most for suiting up every day for nearly 17 years.
"I don't look at it as that unbreakable record everyone else does. Someone told me it was 56 years that [Yankee legend] Lou Gehrig had the record, and that kind of blew me away," Ripken said. "I don't know if it makes it more special or not. The streak happened because it was a byproduct of wanting to play and loving to play and being taught that your job was to come to the ballpark ready to play.
"I am very proud of the fact that I could be counted on, by my manager and teammates. I look at it as really a series of meeting the challenges of today. I'm very proud of that."
The record is highly regarded as unbreakable. Consider this: Manny Machado, who has played every game for the Orioles this season, is the only active player in the Majors to have done so. He'd have his work cut out for him to even sniff Ripken's streak.
"I know that I still have the Tucson [Ariz.] newspaper of when it happened -- it's with all my baseball cards, so even back then I knew it was a big deal," said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. "It's pretty cool to see this tonight. I can't believe it's been 20 years."
Hardy agrees with the majority in that 2,131, in an age of new records and milestones being set every year, is safe.
"I just don't see, to play 162 in one year is a really big accomplishment now," he said. "To do that for how many years? That's pretty ridiculous. Amazing."
Ripken Jr. has been in town to celebrate the fifth, 10th and 15th anniversaries of the streak. Somehow, though, 20 felt a little different.
"I think the longer you get out, the more you kind of reflect and look back at other things," he said. "Anniversaries are good to look and reflect and be thankful for those moments. I guess they become a little bigger the longer they go."