Cal’s Steps in Focus
photo courtesy of Camden Yards Museum
Cal with son Ryan, captured by Orioles photographer Jerry Wachter, and Cal as a young man (below) on display at Camden Yards Museum.
Sports Legends at Camden Yards hits it out of the park with their pictorial tribute to Maryland’s Iron Man.
Reviewed by Diana Beechener
Amid the incessant banging of hotel construction, honking of city commuters and shrieks of vendors selling peanuts or discounted Orioles paraphernalia, the Sports Legends at Camden Yards Museum stands as a quiet respite from Baltimore’s chaos. A converted B & O Railway station next to Camden Yards, the Sports Legends Museum offers harried sports fans a large open space to reflect on the best of Maryland’s athletics. In time for Cal Ripken Jr.’s induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the museum has opened a photo exhibit dedicated to the Orioles’ Iron Man.
Using the photographs of Jerry Wachter, the Orioles’ photographer for 36 years, curator Greg Schwalenberg compiled a record of Ripken’s career. “I wanted this [exhibit] to be like reading a book on Cal,” said Schwalenberg. “I think Wachter really captures Cal’s passion and intensity.”
Schwalenberg hits a home run. Immediately on entering the room, you confront a tight close up of Ripken. His face drawn, eyes squinted and trained on some object beyond the lens, Ripken is coiled tightly, waiting for action. I was immediately reminded that this man, who appears so disarmingly befuddled in the Comcast commercials, is one of baseball’s greatest shortstops.
Wachter’s careful compositions and clarity of image are impressive. These are photos taken in a world before auto-focus or high-definition film. Wachter’s frames capture every speck of dirt and muscle shift with perfect clarity. In Defense, Wachter catches Ripken mid-leap, his right leg bent at an impossible angle as he soars over a base runner. Wachter’s photograph resembles publicity shots for a ballet company with Ripken gracefully performing a jeté in time to throw out the bum running for first.
Wachter’s mastery of composition reinforces Ripken’s legendary status among baseball fans. Several low angled pictures of Cal, facing crowds of admirers in the stadium, look like frames snatched from a John Ford western. Looking much taller than his six-foot-four frame, Ripken stands alone at the mouth of Camden Yards, facing the roaring crowds like a John Wayne character.
When compiling the photographs, Schwalenberg selected snaps to give museum-goers a complete sense of this iconic Oriole.
Ripken “said many times that his dad was his biggest influence. Family was very important to him,” recalls Schwalenberg, standing in front of a portrait of the Ripken men in their uniforms. Identical sets of blue eyes crinkle warmly at the viewer in this photo of Ripken, sandwiched by his brother Billy and father Cal Senior, sporting the Oriole orange and white. The most striking family shot, however, is that of Cal snuggling in the dugout with his young son Ryan. The two are coiled, watching the action of the game while Cal leans in to whisper to his son. The intimacy of the moment is striking among Wachter’s photographs of athletic triumphs. It serves as a reminder that baseball is a family game, even for Hall of Fame players.
If you can’t pilgrimage to Cooperstown this weekend to watch Ripken officially join the ranks of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, then drive up to one of the few quiet spots in Baltimore and remember why Cal is Maryland’s favorite son.
The exhibit runs thru January 2008. 10 am-6 pm daily @ Sports Legends at Camden Yards, off Eutaw St., Baltimore. $10 w/discounts: 410-727-1539.