SEATTLE - There's no doubt that Cal Ripken is going out as an All-Star.
Baseball's Iron Man stole the show from stars more than a decade younger than him, homering in the first at-bat of his final All-Star game Tuesday night.
Leading off the bottom of the third, Ripken got a lengthy ovation and stepped out of the batter's box to tip his helmet to the crowd.
He then hit the first pitch from Chan Ho Park over the left-field fence for his second career All-Star homer. Ripken, who will turn 41 in August, became the oldest player to homer in an All-Star game.
"That was pretty sweet right there," Ripken said. "I just wanted to get a good pitch and put a good swing on it. That was about as fast as I could run around the bases."
Ripken, who also homered in the 1991 All-Star game, received hearty congratulations from his fellow All-Stars and gave a curtain call to the appreciative Safeco Field crowd.
Earlier, Ripken was given a goodbye gift from protege Alex Rodriguez - an opportunity to start the game at shortstop, the position he helped revolutionize.
Just before the first pitch, Rodriguez, the starting shortstop, told Ripken to switch positions and move over from third base.
Ripken refused at first, but with AL manager Joe Torre waving him over from the dugout, he moved to the position he played in his first 12 All-Star games. A-Rod cleared the idea with Torre before the game.
"I said I thought it was a dynamite idea," Torre said.
In a game with many story lines, one of the most poignant was the final All-Star game for retiring greats Ripken and Tony Gwynn.
The two future Hall of Famers announced their retirement days apart in June. Ripken was then voted on to the American League All-Star team and Gwynn has added to the NL squad as an honorary player.
It seems only fitting that Ripken and Gwynn leave baseball's center stage together. They both came up in the early 1980s, were perennial All-Stars and turned down countless millions of dollars to remain with their teams.
They are members of the 3,000-hit club and should enter the Hall of Fame together in 2007.
"I'm happy I'm retiring in the same year as Cal," Gwynn said. "When I told him that, he told me he was happy to be retiring with me. That made me feel good. Cal is a special player. I am not on the same level as he is."
The goodbyes to Gwynn and Ripken have turned some of the game's biggest stars into children scrounging for souvenirs. Rodriguez was hoping to swipe a shoe or bat from Ripken, Bret Boone was hoping for a signed lineup card, Jimmy Rollins was searching for autographs.
"It's going to be a nice moment for Cal," Boone said. "With all the things he's done, I'm probably going to choke up a bit. He's a great guy. Obviously his numbers speak for themselves."
Ripken is one of only seven players to have at least 3,000 hits and 400 homers, won two MVP awards and has been selected to an AL-record 19 All-Star teams.
He also paved the way for today's power-hitting shortstops like Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.
"He cleared the path for a big person to play shortstop," Jeter said. "Whenever people said I was too big to play shortstop I said look at Cal Ripken. He really refined the position."
Gwynn's career has been nearly as good. He has a lifetime .338 average, the highest of any player who began his career after World War II. Gwynn has hit above .300 in 18 straight seasons, breaking Honus Wagner's NL record and his eight NL batting titles are tied with Wagner for the most in the NL.
But Gwynn didn't get a goodbye All-Star swing. Slowed by injuries the past two seasons, Gwynn was invited to Seattle to watch and to be honored.
"I'm going to grab a bat. I get to take BP," he said. "I'm not going to play but that's fine with me."
Gwynn just enjoyed the camaraderie in the locker room. He remembers his first All-Star game in 1984 in San Francisco, when he was like a little kid giddy to get to rub shoulders with greats like Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Ozzie Smith.
Now, the younger players like Philadelphia rookie shortstop Jimmy Rollins are the ones seeking Gwynn out.
"People are coming up and hugging you, thanking you," Gwynn said. "I appreciate that. People are using the word 'ambassador."'
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