(HOST) With birds migrating and the baseball season warming up, it’s probably not surprising that commentator Ted Levin has been thinking about Cal Ripken Jr., longevity records…and the Arctic tern.
(LEVIN) On September 20, 1998, Cal Ripken stepped into his manager’s office and had his name scratched from the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup. Ripken’s record of having played in 2,632 consecutive Major League baseball games had come to an end after 16 years. He had shattered Lou Gehrig’s legendary record by 502 games. And he had played more than two thousand of those games at shortstop, a position that demands fleet feet and quick hands. Ripken was baseball’s “Iron Man”. Although, I prefer to think of him as baseball’s Arctic tern.
Like Ripken, the Arctic tern is the embodiment of durability, a bird of the wind. An Arctic tern may travel more than 30,000 miles roundtrip between its breeding and wintering grounds – Pole to Pole. No creature on Earth seeks sunlight like an Arctic tern. The bird never stops flying. Ripken would be impressed.
And, like Ripken, the bird has longevity. One, captured 34 years after it was banded, may have logged more than a million miles, having cut 33 hemispheric figure-eights across the globe. In autumn, Arctic terns funnel south down two flyways: the west coast of North and South America; and across the North Atlantic to Britain, then south toward Africa. At the African bulge some fly back east across the Atlantic and reach Antarctica from Argentina. Most continue south beyond the Cape of Good Hope.
Although their main wintering ground is the South Indian Ocean, where Arctic terns compete for krill with an assortment of whales, many circumnavigate Antarctica. By March, they leave. First year birds summer off the coast of Chile and Peru. Their parents, locked in their own Ripkenesque quest, head north. A few Arctic terns settle at Cape Morris Jesup, Greenland, the most northernly dry land on Earth. The Arctic tern’s migratory routes appear limited only by the size of the planet, as Ripken’s record appeared limited only by the dimension of the game.
During the Streak, in order to judge his arm strength, Ripken took a hundred ground balls at shortstop before each game. The drill worked. In 1990, he went 95 games without committing an error (a Major League record for a shortstop) and made only three all season for the highest single-season fielding percentage by a shortstop. Over the course of 2,632 games, Ripken collected 2,832 base hits, includ- ing 381 home runs, 38 triples and 534 doubles. His batting average was .278, two points higher than his career average. In 1983 and again in 1991 he was voted American League MVP.
During Ripken’s run, Major League baseball players made 5,045 trips to the Disabled List. Ripken himself played through a variety of ail- ments, including a sprained ankle, a twisted ankle, a twisted knee, chronic back pain and a broken nose.
When teammate Brady Anderson was asked if anyone would approach Ripken’s record, he said, “Absolutely not. I don’t see who would want to. Nobody said it was the smartest streak.”
This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Ctr.
Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.