"It seemed like that streak connected an era of baseball through Lou Gehrig in a way that people started to come back and really look for something good in baseball. It became a celebration, a feel good. A lot of people tell me I played a role in bringing fans back to the game, and that makes me feel good."Few things can be as natural as Ripken in an All-Star Game setting. After all, he played in 19 of them, every year starting in 1983. His mental scrapbook -- full of Midsummer Classic memories -- is topped by the final one. July 10, 2001, in Seattle, was one of the last completely carefree days in America. It was the dusk of innocence. Two months before the World Trade Center, and our expectations, fell. Having earlier announced his postseason retirement, Ripken was the starting third baseman for the American League. But before the first pitch, he was surprised when shortstop Alex Rodriguez nudged him over to his original, legend-making position for the opening inning. "It was a marvelous tribute, which at the time I really didn't understand. But after it was all over and things worked out, I thought it was a really wonderful tribute," said Ripken, who a bit later would make that All-Star farewell even more spine-tingling. "First at-bat," he recalled, "and I got a standing ovation. It was an emotionally charged moment ... you step back ... get your composure ... and first pitch I saw I was able to hit it out of the ballpark and hit a home run. I ran around the bases and that was a very memorable time. So the No. 1 moment was my last one." So far. His enduring No. 1 moment may be the next one, when he formally joins Cooperstown's immortals on July 29. His induction speech remains a work in progress, and America will see a softer Ripken. Do tears rust an ironman? "I'll probably lock myself in a room the last week and really start to get my mind around it," Ripken said. "You can start to get your thoughts together and try imagine how it might be, but the factors that come across when you're actually standing out there, I don't think you can totally prepare for. "And so I'll do the best I can on the substance and the content of the words, then I'll just try to be able to figure out how to handle it emotionally and kind of, you know, get through it. Since my dad [Cal Ripken Sr.] was such a big part of my career and who I became as a baseball player, it's pretty powerful."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.