On the eve of the Baltimore Orioles' season opener against the
Kansas City Royals, roughly 18 hours before he would play in his
2,010th consecutive major league game, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.
and several other Orioles visited former teammate Rick Sutcliffe
at his suburban Kansas City house. Sutcliffe has an outdoor
basketball court, and, naturally, the 6'4" Ripken couldn't resist.
He buried some jump shots and then threw down a few dunks,
although he didn't slam as effortlessly as he usually does. ``I
was wearing a suit,'' he said, ``and dress shoes.''

Obviously, the 34-year-old Ripken isn't taking extraordinary
measures to shield himself from injury as he enters the last leg
of his march on Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games
played. And he continues to prepare for each game as if it were
his first. At 9:15 the next morning -- still 4-1/2 hours before
the first pitch of the season at Kauffman Stadium -- Ripken asked
to use the Royals' indoor batting cage. ``I'll be out as soon as
you like,'' Ripken said to Kansas City coach Gene Mauch, who
smiled and replied, ``Take all the time you want.''

The extra BP didn't do Ripken any good, as Royal starter Kevin
Appier fired 6-2/3 hitless innings and three K.C. relievers
combined to allow just two hits the rest of the way in Kansas
City's 5-1 victory. Ripken struck out three times and walked in
his four plate appearances. But, more important, his streak
continued after the players' strike had put it in jeopardy.

For Royal centerfielder Tom Goodwin, who was 13 when Ripken began
his streak on May 30, 1982, last week's opener was his first game
against Ripken. ``It was a thrill,'' said Goodwin. ``Something
like this happens only once in your life.'' In the first inning
Ripken took a hit away from Goodwin with a nice play on a
one-hopper hit over second base. Goodwin walked in the third, but
then he was tagged out by Ripken on a steal attempt. ``I wasn't
too thrilled when he made that play or when he tagged me out,''
Goodwin said. ``I was thinking, Why doesn't he take a day off?''

After Goodwin singled in the sixth he was picked off first, only
to reach second safely when Baltimore first baseman Rafael
Palmeiro threw low to Ripken covering the bag. Goodwin slid in
hard, accidentally spiking Ripken on the left arm. (No harm
done, of course.) ``I was hoping I didn't draw any blood,'' said
Goodwin. ``Then I watched the replay, and he gave me a forearm
shiver on that play. I'm going to have to talk to him about that
. . . just kidding.'' And what if Goodwin had injured Ripken
badly enough to end the streak? ``I'd never go to Baltimore,''
he said. ``I'd skip that trip. I'm not going to put that man
out. He's a legend.''

That's how Ripken will be regarded by baseball fans across the
country during the 1995 season. After pregame practice on Opening
Day, Ripken ran to the stands in leftfield to greet a fan who was
holding up an orange-and-black street sign that read CAL RIPKEN
AVE. The man, who said he had collected 1,100 pieces of Ripken
memorabilia, offered the sign to Cal in return for a picture with
his hero. Ripken helped the man out of the stands and posed with
him. ``He went to a lot of trouble to give me that sign,'' said
Ripken. ``I just wanted to give him the best picture possible.''

There is no street named after Ripken as yet, but should he break
Gehrig's record, who knows? He's prepared.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS:JOHN BIEVEROne streetwise fan joined young Royals in saluting Ripken, who continued his march to 2,131. ["CAL RIPKEN AVE." street sign; Cal Ripken holding his cap over his heart during the national anthem]

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