NEW YORK -- This season will mark the 15th anniversary of the time Cal Ripken Jr. finally decided to take a day off. On the night of Sept. 20, 1998, the Iron Man officially ended his record streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games, watching instead of playing for the first time since 1982.
As another way to truly appreciate the significance of one of Major League Baseball's greatest achievements, consider that next season Ripken will reach the point where it will have been the same length of time since the streak ended as it was during the streak -- more than 16 years.
That is something for others to contemplate. Ripken, 52, does no such thing. Instead, the Hall of Famer's famous work ethic is still always on display.
On Tuesday, it brought him for the first time to the MLB Fan Cave, where he shared time with the 16 fans representing the countries or territories participating in the World Baseball Classic. He promoted his third children's book, "Wild Pitch," a day after signing 600 copies for fans back in Baltimore. He filmed a video to give a nod to Jin Young Lee, the Korean player who has played in all 18 possible World Baseball Classic games so far -- 2006, '09 and this month. Then it was off to film an episode of "Rachel Ray" on hot dog cuisine, followed by a trip to Florida and a tour of Spring Training camps.
"I haven't stopped by and visited before. It's a cool place," Ripken said of the Fan Cave. "Who wouldn't want to watch all these TVs and be around baseball? I know I have to do it in preparation for studio work with TBS, and I can't imagine the endurance required to watch every game the way they do."
I can't imagine the endurance ...
You kind of had to shake your head when he said that.
Somehow, I think the man who played in 2,632 consecutive games could physically manage to watch each game this season on TV. It's just that it's not his style. Ripken will be more active than ever with TBS in 2013, so he has to be more attuned now.
"I'll be in the booth for a few regular-season games, so the realization is I have to pay attention a little bit closer to Spring Training, and then closer during the season," Ripken said. "Before, you really had to find out which [are] the playoff teams and then scout them and watch them pretty carefully. But now, I've got to start the process a little earlier. All that means is, I've got to watch more baseball games."
So what is he looking for now that Opening Day is only a few weeks away?
"The American League East is a really interesting division," Ripken said. "It's thought of as the toughest division in all of baseball. I'm sure other divisions might make a debate against that. But when I look back at what Toronto's done in the offseason, all of a sudden now they're a potential candidate to win the division. Boston certainly is going to come back and be a better team. When you look at the teams, Tampa Bay and the Orioles and the Yankees, any team could win that division. There's not a clear-cut favorite."
Then he brought up two other teams who will be expected to go far.
"I really like the Angels," he said. "Josh Hamilton will help bolster that offense. I don't expect [Albert] Pujols to get off to a slow start. They're gonna score some runs over there. They've got [Mike] Trout for a full season. I like their chances.
"The Nationals were the one team last year that you might have been able to pull them out and say it was the best team. Then they failed in the playoffs. They bolstered their team as well, adding [Rafael] Soriano to the back end of that bullpen.
"Those are the teams I'm gonna sit there and watch. Of course I'm gonna watch the American League East, because that's my interest, that's where I'm from. But at the same time, I think the Nationals are going to have a good club as well."
In typical Ripken fashion, he was not content just to be swarmed by fans and answer their questions. They became an author's sounding block. Ripken's co-author in the series is Kevin Cowherd, the longtime Baltimore Sun writer. This is the third book in the series, and No. 4 is going to deal with an unruly parent. The important part for Ripken is the moral of the story.
"I love the opportunity to talk about some social issues, some kids issues, through a book that has a baseball team in it," Ripken said. "The first one was called 'Hothead,' about a kid dealing with his temper. No matter what era you're talking from, kids have to deal with their temper. So it's never dated. The next one, 'Super-sized Slugger,' was a bullying issue in there, and that's a big issue right now. It's a way to address it in the book.
"This one, the confidence of big leaguers go up and down. Certainly for kids, the confidence level goes up and down for many reasons. This kid actually does bean a guy, and he's affected by it. He can't throw strikes. He throws the ball a little slower. It's a book about, 'How do you deal with that confidence? How do you support him?' Coaches, parents. In this case, a new friend comes to the scene. I won't ruin the book for you, but a new friend comes into the book and really makes a difference and brings him all the way back."
Ripken asked the fans inside the hub at Fourth Street and Broadway: "So how is it living in the Cave?"
"Up all night," one of them replied. "Haven't slept since yesterday."
"I think I'm on your schedule," Ripken told them.