By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The names herein have been changed to protect the innocent; however, the story is completely true.
Duke Radbourn, a Southern Maryland native, hadn’t seen it in years, but with the anniversary approaching, a reunion was in order. Of course it would take some doing. It was buried in a storage room filled with Christmas ornaments, random crap and miscellaneous sports memorabilia acquired during a well-spent youth.
Tucked in a corner of the room he found a promising lead: a box of vintage baseball cards. Rifling through rows of cardboard classics, he found it: a perfectly preserved ticket from the Orioles game on September 5, 1995…better known as Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,130th consecutive game played, a milestone that tied the immortal Lou Gehrig’s record.
Duke owed his possession of the ticket and its associated memories to a person he had picked on endlessly growing up: his little sister. Here’s how the acquisition went down…
September 5, 1995: Duke arrive home after a long day at the office and checked his answering machine. As he milled around the apartment within earshot, a frantic message from his sister played. She and her college roommate were going to the O’s game. They had an extra ticket…for him. She left specific instructions: meet at the Eutaw Street entrance just before game time and she would hand him the unused ticket through the fence. After that, radio silence.
Dear God. She has what?
Duke’s mind was on tilt. This was his shot to witness live baseball history and he literally had no time to spare.
Duke ran out to his truck and drove down I-83 from his Cockeysville apartment to the Inner Harbor like a bat out of hell. The scene near the ballpark was chaos. He dumped his wheels in the first available lot figuring if it got impounded, it wouldn’t matter…as long as he got in. Sprinting to the stadium he started doubting if he heard his sister correctly. Was this real? What gate did she say? What time? He was so close…
Camden was a circus, a sea of orange. Huge 2-1-2-9 numbers adorned the warehouse beyond the right field fence; they would change to 2-1-3-0 shortly. Duke snaked through the frenzy and got to the gate. He had made it - somehow. Where was she? Scanning the crowd for his 5’2” sister, he heard his name and locked eyes with his suddenly wonderful sibling. Meeting at the fence she handed him the ticket…the ultimate golden ticket (sorry Willie Wonka). Duke ran back in line and within minutes, he was in the stands. He was in the freaking stands for #2,130!!!
Twenty years later, as he clutched the ticket and pondered the very different world of 2015, Duke realized the ticket isn’t the only timepiece; the story associated with it is too. If the same scenario was reenacted today, there would be no answering machine. Sis’s message would have been sent to bro via text, giving Duke ample time to divert course and drive directly to the stadium, thereby avoiding the white-knuckled drive down I-83. The ticket exchange would have been casually and precisely coordinated via cell phone – no excitement, no uncertainty. And the ticket itself? It would likely be no more than a stale computer printout from Stubhub or a scan-able barcode on a smartphone, neither of which would have produced the keepsake that Duke fished out two decades later.
Of course such considerations are purely hypothetical. Just as the technology has changed, so too have our athletes. Suffice to say, Ripken’s ultimate record of 2,632 consecutive games played will never be broken. Few athletes possess the skill and the health to execute such a feat, and even if they did, it would never occur to them to try.
With the ticket tucked safely away, Duke exited the cluttered room smiling. He was happy to be in amazing world of today and happy to have experienced Ripken’s career and the pre-internet age that produced his unforgettable 2,130 adventure. Mostly, though, he was grateful his sister called and that he thought to check his answering machine.
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