Iron Man Ripken Gets His Due

I’m tired of hearing about sports scandals: Barry Bonds closing in on Hank Aaron’s record for all-time home runs while using illegal substances; NBA ref Tim Donaghy gambling on games he was officiating; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick being indicted for running a dogfighting ring… Even the Tour de France now has its own scandals!

Let’s hear more about guys like Cal Ripken, Jr., the Baltimore Orioles shortstop (and later third baseman) who today is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. While these other men are honored for their athletic ability and dishonored by their lack of character, Ripken is a man who is being honored today for both his athletic ability and his character.

It’s difficult to try and describe the man and his career. You can find out a ton of stuff about him by clicking here. Sure, he shattered one of the most impressive records in sports history, playing in an unbelievable 2,632 consecutive games (I’m still sore from a softball doubleheader two days ago!). Yeah, he whacked 3,184 hits and 431 homers during his 21-year career. And of course he was one of the best defensive shortstops there’s ever been.

But there was so much more than that. He’s a man with class, a sports star who is actually humble and cares about the fans (tomorrow I’ll post a piece written by my dad that illustrates that point). Then, of course, there’s the fact that he’s a big fan of Mexican food. In Ripken’s list of his 10 favorite things about Maryland, one item was Ocean City, and another was the La Tolteca restaurant in Bel Air. (Never been to that one, but the one in Salisbury rocks.)

Growing up watching Ripken play shortstop for the O’s was one of the elements that defined my childhood. When we played in the backyard or in a league, he modeled everything we aspired to. And when we talked with him in the parking lot after O’s games, he was so friendly, gracious, and unassuming that he gave us something to aspire to off the field as well.

One time in 2000 I had the opportunity to hang out in the Orioles locker room. I was going to college in Baltimore and was writing a paper about pitcher Mike Timlin, a Christian who was with the Orioles at that time. In the locker room before the game, I had interviewed Timlin (and prayed with him, which was pretty cool), and talked with some other players and coaches, like Eddie Murray. Lingering around and taking notes, I realized that the only ones left in the locker room with me were Harold Baines and Cal Ripken. I walked over to them and asked if they had any good Mike Timlin stories they could share with me. Ripken suggested that my best shot would be to throw that question at the other bullpen pitchers. Yeah, so that much was pretty obvious. But I was thinking, “Duh, I know that–but you’re Cal Ripken, so of course I’m gonna ask you something!”

The following year, in 2001, Ripken announced that he was retiring at the end of the season. So my whole family–parents, brothers, spouses, significant others, niece, etc.–all piled into a van and drove to Yankee Stadium in New York City to watch one of his last games, on September 23, 2001. The O’s lost, but it was great getting to watch Ripken play one last time.

In the days since he last graced the field donning an Orioles jersey, Cal has spent much of his time investing in young ballplayers. His investment gives us hope that the world of sports is not inevitably doomed to be wracked with spiraling scandals. As long as he continues to teach kids to Play Baseball the Ripken Way, we can be sure that his legacy will be much more than just another plaque hanging in Cooperstown.

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Published in: on July 29, 2007 at 7:09 am  Leave a Comment  

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