Happy Birthday, Cal

I'm heading back down to Ocean Pines this morning and might actually see the beach this time. I'm shooting for tomorrow and Thursday, since it's overcast today and I'm getting a late start. All I need is for the Orioles to cooperate. No trades or managerial changes.

I should be safe.

I'm averaging three Joe Mahoney questions a day, so I'll just mention here that he has a shot to surface in Baltimore sometime next summer. It won't be on Opening Day. The Orioles won't approach free agency this winter with concerns about blocking first base for Mahoney. But he's on the radar.

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Mahoney's batting .318 with 26 doubles, 18 homers, 77 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. That'll get you noticed. So will his size.

I haven't seen Mahoney play, but I'm told he does a pretty good job around first base for a guy who's 6 foot 7. He isn't a statue over there. Pigeons aren't sitting on his shoulders.

I want to wish Cal Ripken a Happy 50th Birthday - words that seem so strange coming from my keyboard.

He's really 50?

My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and I have enough trouble comprehending how anyone stays together that long. It's impossible for me to grasp that Junior is 50.

I must be the only person on this planet who isn't aging.

I guess this eliminates any possibility of him taking over third base if Josh Bell isn't ready.

I firmly believe that we'll see Ripken in the front office one day, beginning in a secondary role. He's clearly headed down that path, as he indicated back in June when I had a chance to interview him. You can read it here.

Ripken has no interest in managing. Otherwise, we would have seen him in a dugout or coaching box a long time ago, gaining the experience necessary beyond his playing career. Not many guys go from major league lineup to the manager's office, and that includes the Hall of Famers. Ryne Sandberg worked his way up through the minors and is poised to take over the Cubs. That's usually how it's done.

I'm sure everyone here has their favorite Cal Ripken memory. It might be something obvious that happened on the field - 2,131, his final game, the line drive that settled into his glove and ended the 1983 World Series. Maybe you attended the last game at Memorial Stadium and joined the fans chanting "MVP" whenever he stepped to the plate. Maybe you stood in a long line to get his autograph in the weeks leading up to his record-breaking night in '95.

I'll never forget sitting in the press box on deadline while the line of autograph seekers wound up the steps and through the concourse. Ripken stood along the railing and signed for everyone while teammates ate, showered and left the ballpark. He'd blow on the ink to make sure it didn't smear before handing back a ball or photo. Always the perfectionist.

I sat next to Ken Rosenthal the night that a Ripken line drive destroyed his laptop. That story is now part of the ballpark tour. I hear it multiple times a day as it moves into the press box. It's been grossly exaggerated through the years - Ripken didn't call the shot like Babe Ruth - but it did happen, and Ripken took quiet joy in it after the game when a member of the Orioles' PR staff told him what happened. I believe his only response, accompanied by a small grin, was "Cool."

I let Rosenthal use my laptop to write a new column. As I recall, the Babe Ruth Museum requested the broken one, or what was left of it. Ripken's ball had knocked it to the floor as we scattered to avoid being hit.

We watched him grow from Cal Senior's kid to icon. And now he's 50.

If you're one of the unfortunate ones who ages, you've got to be feeling a little older this morning.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to shuffle upstairs, stand in front of the mirror in my bathroom and wonder whose face is staring back at me.

Happy Birthday, Cal. Here's to many, many more.

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