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Cal Ripken heads into retirement with no regrets

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BALTIMORE (AP) _ In his final baseball game in the major leagues Saturday night, Cal Ripken didn't hit a dramatic home run. He didn't even get a hit.

It hardly mattered.

Ripken did everything he set out to accomplish, and then some. He played in 2,632 consecutive games from 1982 to 1998, shattering Lou Gehrig's record.

The Baltimore Orioles star kept himself in tiptop shape, played through injuries and got the most out of his body from the day he arrived in the major leagues.

That is why he will forever be known as the Iron Man.

A sellout crowd of 48,807 including former President Clinton and major league commissioner Bud Selig were among the big names on hand for Ripken's final game, a contest against the Boston Red Sox.

``Cal Ripken is a model for the game of baseball,'' Clinton said. ``Not only for his team, but most important to me, he is the kind of man every father would like his son to grow up to be.''

It meant everything to Baltimore fans, many of whom paid $1,000 a ticket to say goodbye to a hardworking athlete whose impact stretched far beyond the boundaries of Maryland.

After he entered the dugout, he emerged to the cheers of the crowd and waved in appreciation. Many fans missed several innings standing in long lines to buy souvenirs and programs to mark the occasion _ the 3,001st game for Ripken.

The crowd collectively stood and cheered each time Ripken came to the plate, but the Orioles' 41-year-old third baseman couldn't reward them with one final hit. His 0-for-3 performance against the Red Sox put a 2-for-48 finish on his Hall of Fame career.

With fans chanting ``We want Cal,'' Ripken was left on deck when Brady Anderson struck out against Ugueth Urbina to end the game, which the Red Sox won 5-1.

``Tonight we close a chapter of this dream, my playing career,'' he told the crowd after the game. ``But I have other dreams. You know, I might have some white hair on top of this head _ well, maybe on the sides of this head _ but I'm really not that old. My dreams for the future include pursuing my passion for baseball. Hopefully, I will be able to harvest what I've learned.''

Now that his career is over, Ripken's wide range of emotions doesn't include remorse.

``I've had 20 full years, and when I look back I can't say I wish I would have played more or wish I would have taken it more seriously or wish I would have taken care of myself better,'' he said. ``I've had my fill. I've had a lot of great times in between those white lines.''

Since he announced in June that he would retire after this season, the shortstop has had no second thoughts. The only thing he loves more than baseball is his family, and the future Hall of Famer is ready to break free of the obligations of the job he's held for two decades.

Fans ask him to change his mind. Ripken says no way.

``I'm not sad that I'm leaving,'' Ripken said. ``I've had a lot of people cry in front of me, fans who would say, `Please don't go. One more year. It's not going to be the same without you.'

``I find myself consoling them. I say, `It's going to be all right.'''

But it won't be the same. Ripken was one of a kind, and not just because of his amazing streak. All week he's been signing autographs at Camden Yards for hours after games, just as he did in 1995, leading up to the night he broke Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 straight games.

``It's just a pleasure to be playing on the same field as a player like him,'' Boston's Jose Offerman said. ``Everybody would like to be in my position right now.''

Ripken, similarly, wouldn't trade places with anyone. He had a marvelous career _ even got to play for his father, Cal Sr., who managed the Orioles in 1987-88, and alongside his brother, second baseman Bill Ripken.

``One question I've been repeatedly asked these last few weeks is how do I want to be remembered,'' Ripken told the crowd. ``My answer is simple: To be remembered at all is pretty special.''
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