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Hit and Run Baseball has supporter in Ripken

Hall of Famer lends expertise to MLB's new youth initative
MLB.com

From the birth of the famously intimidating "violin" stance to a strong will for success, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. is ready to pass down everything he knows about baseball to help the younger generation develop into successful athletes.

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball announced "Hit and Run Baseball" on Monday, a new format of baseball that makes efforts with more game action and skill development at the local levels. It helps maintain a focus on pitcher arm health by reducing the number of pitches per at-bat, increasing the frequency of balls in play and giving teams bonuses for hitting certain pace-of-play goals. It is in line with the overall Play Ball initiative's message that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to play baseball.

From the birth of the famously intimidating "violin" stance to a strong will for success, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. is ready to pass down everything he knows about baseball to help the younger generation develop into successful athletes.

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball announced "Hit and Run Baseball" on Monday, a new format of baseball that makes efforts with more game action and skill development at the local levels. It helps maintain a focus on pitcher arm health by reducing the number of pitches per at-bat, increasing the frequency of balls in play and giving teams bonuses for hitting certain pace-of-play goals. It is in line with the overall Play Ball initiative's message that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to play baseball.

More on Hit and Run Baseball

Ripken, one of the advisors on the leadership committee for Hit and Run and a major player in the initiative going forward, describes the format as a modified version of baseball with a focus on 8 -to 10-year-olds. He said it allows youth players to gain flexibility on the field and recognize their unique individual assets, instead of adapting to the same skill set as Major League Baseball at an age when they're not necessarily developed to imitate that style or level of play.

"To me, it's a great teaching tool, it's a great developing tool and it really gets the kids more into playing all facets of the game as opposed to just one or two," Ripken said. "If you can't hit at 8 [years old], and all of a sudden, you're swinging the bat and you're striking out and you're going back and sitting on the bench, you don't get to play. So by inserting baserunners and different counts, you're encouraging the action ball."

In Ripken's 21 seasons with the Orioles, he accumulated 3,184 hits and 1,695 RBIs, earned two MVP Awards and was selected to 19 All-Star Games. Iron Man cruised by Lou Gehrig and demolished the record for most consecutive games played with 2,632. Ripken holds authority over that record by his successful transition from shortstop to third base later in his career. He played 675 games at the hot corner and received three All-Star nods for the position. Now he wants kids to gain that same confidence by exposing themselves to different roles.

One of the tenets in the Hit and Run initiative is more engagement with youth players by introducing diverse game situations, giving players the freedom to play different defensive positions and providing more opportunities to participate defensively. Ripken said this allows kids to remove the pressure of playing at an "important position," and instead take every role in stride.

"My advice to parents all the time and even to little kids is, play different positions when you're young," Ripken said. "Try them out, see if you like them. Catching is a difficult position, and sometimes until you figure it out and you put the stuff on, you might not like it. You have to give something a try to kind of expose it."

Ripken thinks the program will work because this modified version of baseball creates a love for the game simply by being more interactive. His role in the initiative has been in helping MLB with ideas. And now, it's communicating those ideas to a national audience.

"I think nowadays, kids are put into an organized structured program and they don't have the ability to create those repetitions necessary to learn," Ripken said. "So this format is an organized version of being a little unorganized. It's making the game move, to keep the kid's attention, but not to speed up the game. Not to train future athletes how to play the game in a fast way. It's to create action and to create situations that people can learn from."

Ripken wants to eliminate the major drop-off of kids letting go of baseball once they switch from playing on a small field to a larger field. He said for 12- and 13-year-olds, the diamond size becomes a little too intimidating. He hopes the Hit and Run initiative will instill an everlasting love for the game at a recreational level. In this way, when kids move to the bigger field, they're not intimidated by it because they're playing a game that they like, regardless of the bumps in the road they'll encounter as the game gets harder.

"Hopefully now once you start getting it accepted in the mainstream and people start to see the results of the learning, then you're going to see the results of a better player down the line," Ripken said. "To me, the judgment of success is, you have more people that are drawn to the game and they want to play the game."

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.