L'Chaim

Jewish World Review August 14, 2001/ 25 Menachem-Av 5761

Cal and Koby


By Phil Jacobs


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- CAL RIPKEN came out of the Orioles' clubhouse into a side office to meet his longtime friend and attorney Ira Rainess. The O's had lost another one to Anaheim. The city was emerging from the turmoil and shutdown caused by a CSX train wreck in the Howard Street tunnel. At Camden Yards, it took 3 1/2 hours to play nine innings of baseball. There was a 5:40 p.m. flight to Texas. It was after 4 p.m. Cal told his attorney that he had 10 minutes to talk. Ira Rainess looked at the stack of files containing business deals and projects for the retiring baseball legend. Everyone seems to want a moment, a minute, a nod from the baseball great.

What the attorney wanted to talk to the ballplayer about was not in any of those files.

"Did you hear about the two boys who were killed near a cave in Israel?" Mr. Rainess recounted asking Cal.

"I remember one of them was from Silver Spring," Mr. Rainess said Cal responded. Mr. Rainess was hardly surprised. Cal, he said, reads everything, not just skims, but reads.

Mr. Rainess then turned over a copy of a Jewish Times Editor's Notes column, which was published in the July 20 edition. The headline read simply, "Koby's Hero."

The article quoted Koby's father, former University of Maryland Hillel director Rabbi Seth Mandell. The rabbi talked about how Koby, 14, even though thousands of miles away from Baltimore in Tekoah, Israel, was a huge Cal Ripken fan. He had Cal's poster on his bedroom wall, and wore the number 8 on his little league team. He even started out as a shortstop and was moved by his coach to third base. To memorialize Koby after his death, children all over Israel wore the number 8 on their uniform sleeves.

But Cal Ripken didn't read all of that ... yet.

His eyes were fixed on the headline, according to Mr. Rainess.

"He saw the title, Koby's Hero," said Mr. Rainess. "He said, 'I'm his hero?'" "

"You have to understand," continued Mr. Rainess, "we're in this room, the clock is ticking. I knew he had to go get on the bus to make the flight to Texas. But he didn't seem to care. He starts reading the article, every line of it. There was a silence in the room that was unforgettable. It got to the point where he was going to be late. He asked me if he could keep the article."

Mr. Rainess said that after an Orioles win and the players are shaking hands on the field, if a young teammate doesn't look Cal in the eye during the handshake, Cal won't let go of his hand until they make eye contact. The connection needs to be made between players. It is one of the many aspects of being a pro that Cal teaches to the younger players.

But on this one afternoon off the field, with the pressure of a bus leaving, Cal stood up in a room outside of the clubhouse, grabbed his attorney's hand, and the two made an emotional eye contact. Without saying a word, Mr. Rainess said, the two knew they wanted to discuss Koby further.

And when the two reconnect in Baltimore, Cal will decide on a fitting way of honoring Koby's name.

It is a common sight around the Orioles clubhouse at Camden Yards and at almost every road trip clubhouse the O's visit to see Cal Ripken, dressed in his uniform, hours before game time and meeting with a sick child.

But for Cal, this time, there wasn't even an opportunity to meet Koby.

Mr. Rainess said that he has never received more faxes in a three-hour time period than he did the Friday the article appeared in the Jewish Times. When he called in from out of the office, he was told that he was getting the same fax.

"I read the story," he said, "I was heartbroken. Over the years, all the things Cal does for people, 95 percent never know about. But this one hit a different chord with me. To see that on the other side of the world, he has an impact in a positive way on kids ... "

The phone rang, meanwhile, in his Greenspring Valley office. There was a major contract on the line for Cal. Mr. Rainess was needed to answer a question. But Cal's attorney of 10 years now had tears in his eyes as he tried to find words to further express how he was feeling.

Mr. Rainess would get back to them in 20 minutes.

There was also a stack of files of other projects he'd have to get to as Cal heads for his Sept. 30 retirement. But that could wait.

The conversation about Koby would continue, Mr. Rainess said.

He'd wait for another moment with Cal.

Phil Jacobs is the Editor of Baltimore Jewish Times. Comment by clicking here.

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