Like most Americans, I too am a fan of heroes. Regardless of the arena, it's tough to resist the guy or gal who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Regularly we read about or are shown pictures of astonishing acts of bravery and selflessness. From the firefighter who rescued the crane operator from atop the burning building in Atlanta last year to just last week's story of the uncle who wrestled the seven-foot shark to shore in an attempt to save his eight-year-old nephew's arm, heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

The most prevalent would have to be the sports hero. The person who hits the game-winning home run, or catches the touchdown pass or who delivers the ace to win the tie-breaker, it seems that every day we have a new hero brought to us on the sports page.

Lately we've been told about every move that Baltimore Orioles infielder Cal Ripken has made. Earlier in the baseball season, Ripken announced that this year was to be his last. Even though Baltimore is 13 games back in the American League Eastern Division, all eyes are on the O's as we celebrate Ripken's swan song.

And Ripken deserves it. Called the Iron Man, a couple of seasons ago Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record. He has driven in more than 1,600 runs and has hit more than 400 homers. And he owns a World Championship ring after winning the 1985 World Series.

All of those feats would certainly qualify Cal Ripken for hero status. But there is more.

I should qualify this piece by saying that even though I grew up just a couple of hours south of Baltimore, I have never been a particularly big fan of the Orioles or Cal Ripken.

That changed the other day, however, when I heard him speak during the weekend series in Atlanta.

Ripken was questioned about the possibility of a trade that could send him to a playoff contender and allow the chance for another World Series ring. It would mean waiving a no-trade clause and leaving a team he has played for his entire career.

Ripken admitted that he had not been asked that question and needed a second to think about it. A second later he responded no, he would not leave the Orioles. I was impressed with his loyalty to his team.

What he said next impressed me even more.

The question related to Ripken changing his mind and coming back next year. Again he said no explaining that what he was doing was part of a plan.

He said that he married in his late 20s and he and his wife didn't have children right away. But they now have two and they are of the age where it is time for little league and ballet recitals. He remembered growing up and missing his father somewhat due to the demands of professional baseball and Cal jr. doesn't want that for his kids.

He didn't say this, but I get the impression that Cal Ripken knows that he's had his fun and while he could have a little more if he wanted to, it's now somebody else's turn. And that somebody else happens to be his family.

Even off the field, Cal Ripken continues to be a hero. If you don't believe me, ask his kids in a couple of years.

To borrow a word from my childhood, having a dad that is a sports hero might be kind of neat. But I'm glad that I had one that was home all the time. I have a feeling that Cal Ripken's kids are going to feel the same way.



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