What was your mindset heading into the game the night you broke the record for most consecutive games played?
I think if I can go back, my mindset going into the last week was the only time I felt in the whole streak that there was a finish line. I never set out to do this, I never set out to say "can I break this record?" Then all of a sudden the preparations made for the celebration put pressure on me. I said "OK, I have to get there." After 2,130, there was sort of a realization it was a foregone conclusion you're going to play tomorrow. There was a little sense of relief and I was more relaxed going into the 2,131 game than the 2,130 game.
It was important for me to play well and have our team play well and have the focus be on that and not necessarily the record-breaking game. I did have a sense of being a little bit more relaxed and any sort of pressure that had developed in that last week was gone.
Once the game became official, there was a 22-minute ovation and, urged by your teammates, you did a lap around the field. What was that like?
I remember being a little overwhelmed. I really wasn't aware of when the game became official, as far as the streak, but it started to present itself a couple weeks prior to the game, when they started playing a song in the fifth inning. When the actual game became official, depending on whether you were ahead or behind, top of the fifth or bottom of the fifth then it would become official and I knew we were going to have some sort of ceremony then resume the game. Everyone kept clapping and clapping and I had a chance to grab a moment with my kids and my family right there.
I kept acknowledging and thanking everyone for the outpouring of support and I kept going back to the dugout. There were curtain calls and I guess I did three or four or five of them. I remember Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla said, "look, this thing's not going to be able to start again unless you make a lap around the whole stadium." I said, "I'm not making a lap around this whole stadium." Once I came back for the last time, they physically pushed me. I think it was Bobby Bo and Raffy both, they physically pushed me and said "go, get this thing over with." I started running down out of obligation to them and I started then shaking hands and a celebration that was 50,000-strong turned into a very personal one. It took me all around the stadium. I was concerned and embarrassed that the game was being delayed this long and then after I started making the lap, I didn't care one bit about the game anymore. It was a pretty good experience.
The record-breaking day came during a shortened season after the strike. Did you think that moment would become such a big rallying point in baseball's recovery from the strike?
I think we all felt when we lost the World Series the year before, all of us in the game felt the game had been harmed and the fans had been harmed by the process. I think a lot of us wanted to try to reach out and kind of help make that right. I do think it was a matter of timing. A lot of people were looking for things in the game they really loved. The streak, in my opinion, connected back to an era where people thought of it more as a game and it just reminded them of good things. I think there was a certain momentum created and generated in the '95 year because people were looking for things that were good in sports. I think that streak, Lou Gehrig's career being celebrated, was one of the perfect things for people to focus on. For me it was less about me and more how people cared about the sport.
Three years later, you decided to end the streak. How did you know it was time?
I guess you just get a feeling. My approach to every game was to try to erase the games that were before and try to focus on the game at hand. Your job as a baseball player is to come to the park ready to play every day, and the manager, it's his job to make those decisions about who plays. As the streak went on, there were a collection of managers and people who began to look at it as "it's out of my hands. It's too big for me to make a decision." I think at that time, you're supposed to try to win, you're supposed to make the playoffs, so I thought it was time to reset it, to officially put it back in the hands of the manager. If we fall out of the pennant race, and we're not there, I think I'm ready to put a stop to it.
My thought was to do it the last game of the season, and reset it for next year. The last game was on the road, and my wife said no, if you're going to put an end to this thing, you have to do it at home, where everybody has followed you and it should be a positive, not any sort of negative. It turned out to be the perfect way to do it. 10 minutes before the game started I told the manager and it just sort of unfolded in a real nice tribute against the Yankees.
In '96, you won Best Male Athlete at the ESPYS. What did that mean to win an award that covered all of sports?
I'm a big person on perspective, and I think looking at the scenario, to me it made me feel good that your approach to the game was the right approach. I always thought being a gamer and someone who had a sense of responsibility to the game and to my teammates was the honorable thing. That's how I looked at that award, that it was not just an approach for a year or for a game. It was how you went about playing the game for your whole career. That was the symbolism for me. I didn't look at it and say I was the best player or the best athlete compared to all these other athletes. I think it was more of a way that the streak was viewed and the way that people relate to the streak.
The coolest part of that whole thing was that people shared stories of their own streaks, whether it was attendance in school or about work. It was about how they brought meaning from their actions and I think the streak became symbolic of that. That's how I looked at it.
You've stayed involved in baseball after your retirement with the IronBirds. What's next for you?
I'm not sure. It was very important for me to be close to my kids. I was able to stay connected to baseball through our youth business and our minor league teams and that seemed to unfold really nicely. It allowed me the flexibility to drive kids to school and be at their events and be there for graduations and do all those cool things. I'm coming up on a transitional moment. They'll be off to college [Cal's son, Ryan, will be playing college baseball at South Carolina], both of them out of the house at the same time, so we'll see what opportunities might come along.
How would you like people to remember you?
I was asked that question a lot during the streak and the answer I always came up with was "as a gamer". This sport can present a lot of obstacles that are challenging and tough, and you're there to meet them every day. You played 15 innings the night before in Boston -- like the Orioles just did, they played 17 innings -- and you might roll around the next day and have a day game and be facing the best pitcher in the league in the form of Roger Clemens. Those challenges are great that day, and if you're someone who can respond to those challenges, that's when you get labeled someone who wants to play the game, loves the game and is a gamer. To me, someone who loves the game and is a gamer would be the highest compliment.