Big League Dreams

Yesterday, Cal Ripken Jr. was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by over 98 percent of the baseball writers who could participate in the balloting.

Ripken’s stats are impressive: he has over 400 career home runs, two MVP awards, a 1983 World Series ring (he caught the final out of the final game in that series), he holds the record for playing in the most consecutive games (2632), and he has a lifetime batting average over .300.

Personally, I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of Hall of Fame honors. In a culture that thinks nothing of going wherever the money is through free agency (witness Randy Johnson’s flip-flop from the Diamondbacks to the Yankees and back to the Diamondbacks), Ripken finished where he started, in Baltimore. He never saw his induction as a foregone conclusion, and he never was fixated on his own statistics.

Millions of kids dream of becoming professional athletes, and only a tiny percentage of them realize that dream. And while we all have dreams and nurture them to get them started, even our best predictions can’t guarantee where we will end up.

So, Ripken has a lot to teach us about honoring commitments and putting in the time. When he played his first game in the big leagues, I doubt he was thinking, “Gee, I’m gonna play more games in a row than anybody else”.

But as his career progressed, he became best-known for that record, which stands as a testament to his work ethic, one of the many lessons he took from and credits to his father. He has said that taking his lap around the ballpark on September 16, 1995, when he passed Lou Gehrig on the most-consecutive-games list is perhaps his greatest human memory of his career because of the outpouring of love he felt from those witnessing the historic event that day from the stands.

There is a story that, once, when a Baltimore writer printed his opinion that it might be time for Ripken to sit out, Ripken, first to bat in that night’s game, hit a foul ball into the press box that destroyed the reporter’s computer.

The universe is funny that way. I don’t care how good a hitter you are: no one plans to do something like that! Okay, maybe they might think it, but what are the odds of actually having it happen? Pretty small. And anyone even vaguely familiar with Ripken would know that he wasn’t the kind of person who would be looking for payback with the press.

But for anyone who has a dream and starts the journey toward fulfilling it, the road is as unknowable as anything else, and the time to say, “I am finished,” and gracefully step aside is also uncertain.

Our culture is quick to honor great achievements, and just as quick to discard one moment’s hero for the next new thing. Ripken, perhaps more than any player in recent memory, epitomizes the delicate balance of willpower, gratitude, respect and grace that mark a truly magnificent human being. Having reached the heights of his own success, he doesn’t forget where he came from and takes care to ensure that those following similar dreams after him have opportunities to take their places on the road to fulfillment.

In pursuit of our dreams, we should all cultivate the seeds that will flower into our success, as well as the intuition to listen to the small voice within each of us that says, “This is enough”.

Success is wonderful, but it’s how we handle it that will often be remembered longer than our accomplishments.

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