Ripken's magic a global commodity

SEATTLE -- The stated theme to Tuesday's All-Star Game was baseball's international reach and damn if that wasn't the way it worked out. The game had more of an international flavor than the left side of the menu at a certain house of pancakes.

The winning pitcher, Freddy Garcia, is from Venezuela. The losing pitcher, Chan Ho Park, is from South Korea. The pitcher who earned the save, Kazuhiro Sasaki, and the player who received the most votes, Ichiro, are from Japan.

And the MVP is from the United States, Cal Ripken Jr.

Baseballs are held together by leather, twine and seams but apparently the ball itself holds together much more.

"I've been to Japan three times and they're crazy about baseball, maybe more so than we are here," Ripken said. "We come from so many places, but it just seems so natural for all of us to compete together."

There were many eagerly awaited moments Tuesday night -- Randy Johnson pitching to Ichiro, Alex Rodriguez returning to Seattle, Roger Clemens throwing the ceremonial splintered bat to Mike Piazza -- but the most memorable moment was the least anticipated.

Ripken, who may have been voted onto the team for sentimental reasons only, provided the only at-bat that mattered when he sent the first pitch thrown to him into the left-field bullpen to give the American League a lead it never lost.

Yeah, it sure is a shame fans voted the old geezer onto the team, isn't it?

Now, if this game had been played in the old days when the leagues hated each other, Pete Rose probably would have tripped Ripken as he rounded the bases. There was a slightly different, more respectful reaction Tuesday.

"I started clapping and then I remembered that he was on the opposition," Tony Gwynn said. "So I looked around to see if anyone noticed me and I saw that all the other players were clapping, too."

Hey, why not? The only people who weren't clapping were the ones wiping their eyes.

Baseball made a nice attempt to honor Gwynn and Ripken in the sixth inning. American League manager Joe Torre sent Ripken to third base before the inning started and then substituted Troy Glaus so that Ripken could trot off the field to a well-deserved standing ovation.

The players began walking onto the field to congratulate Cal but just as fans began developing lumps the size of baseballs in their throats, commissioner Bud Selig ruined the moment by wheeling a lectern onto the field to present a lifetime achievement award to each player.

When is Bud going to learn? The less he speaks, the better. Especially in Seattle, the city from which he stole the Pilots. You could feel the life draining from the stadium and hear the channels being switched all across the nation. The game had been flowing along crisply until then, but Bud's little ceremony brought the proceedings -- and the game -- to a sudden halt.

From now on, I think baseball needs a new ground rule for the All-Star Game: No more lecterns. The only thing it should wheel onto the field is Ted Williams.

Ripken, naturally, handled things much more smoothly. After the game, he spoke eloquently about his love and appreciation for baseball, then closed his press conference by having his daughter Rachel deliver a message in Japanese to the Japanese reporters. "Here's where we see the value of a private education," Ripken joked.

"My name is Rachel Ripken," his daughter said nervously in Japanese, "and I'm happy for my Dad."

Hey, we all were. Especially when he's been there so many times to connect us all.

But then, everything is connected in baseball. It's as if the game were an athletic version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

For instance, long after the final questions had been asked and answered Tuesday night, Dave Winfield waited for Ripken so he could sign a big baseball for his son, David Jr. Winfield Sr. was born Oct. 3, 1951, the same day Bobby Thomson homered off Ralph Branca in perhaps baseball's most famous moment. Branca and Thomson were Tuesday night's National League's honorary captains.

The American League's honorary captain was Kirby Puckett, who will join Winfield when the two are inducted into the Hall of Fame in three weeks. The Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, just miles from the source of the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna flows from Cooperstown past the home of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., until it reaches the sea many miles later in Havre de Grace, Md.

Havre de Grace is the hometown of Cal Ripken Jr.

Box score line of the week
Only one line could win this award. Despite a .240 batting average, despite
having fewer home runs than pitcher Mike Hampton, despite controversy over
whether he deserved to start in the All-Star Game, Cal Ripken Jr. went home
the most valuable player for the second time in his career. In the third
inning of his final All-Star Game, the most important player of the past two
decades homered on the first pitch thrown to him. We've seen Cal's name in
All-Star boxscores for two decades but no more. This is his last line and
it's one to cherish.

2 AB, 1 R, 1 H, 1 RBI, 1 unbelievable home run

Running around the bases, Ripken said, "I actually felt like I was fast for
the first time in my career."

Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category is: He Went On The D.L. With Splinters The Next Day.

Q. Who went in as Ripken's substitute in the 1994 All-Star Game?

Power rankings

A. No one. Ripken played the entire game.

Voice of summer
"That sort of thing only happens to white people."

-- Kirby Puckett joking about the fairy-tale nature of his friend, Cal
Ripken Jr., homering in his final All-Star Game

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.