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Interview with Manfred, Reagins, Ripken

MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Welcome. Thanks for coming today. We have a really wonderful announcement that I know the commissioner is proud of, the commissioner's office is proud of.

This press conference is to announce a special appointment in Major League Baseball's continuing efforts to reach young people and help grow our name, not only baseball, but softball as well, so two games technically.

MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Welcome. Thanks for coming today. We have a really wonderful announcement that I know the commissioner is proud of, the commissioner's office is proud of.

This press conference is to announce a special appointment in Major League Baseball's continuing efforts to reach young people and help grow our name, not only baseball, but softball as well, so two games technically.

I want to introduce our dais. Certainly, you're familiar, Senior Vice President of Youth Programs, Tony Reagins, is with us this afternoon; the Vice Chairman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the C.E.O. of Ripken Baseball, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.; and our first speaker this afternoon, the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred.

ROBERT MANFRED JR.: Thank you. For those of you who have heard me during my first 11 months on the job, it is no surprise that one of my most important goals is to increase the competitiveness of baseball in the youth market and in the youth participation market in particular.

We've worked very hard over the last 11 months to change the face of baseball in the youth market. Thanks to Tony Petitti, we have our Play Ball initiative, the umbrella under which our youth programs operate; and of course it's been great to have Tony Reagins, our Senior Vice President of Youth Programming. He has consolidated the various youth-related programs in the commissioner's office under his area of responsibility. We think that will greatly increase the effectiveness of those programs over time.

I have said in many contexts that one of the greatest assets in our game is our players and our former players, and it's with great pleasure that I'm here to announce today that Cal Ripken is joining the commissioner's office group as a senior advisor to the commissioner's office on youth programs.

Cal has devoted much of his time since his great playing career finished to youth programs, developing youth programs, helping kids enjoy our game. Cal will be involved in all aspects of our policy development in the youth area. He will oversee a variety of programs, make appearances on behalf of the commissioner's office, and generally provide sage guidance to us as we try to move forward in the youth area. We are very excited to have someone of Cal's character and reputation joining us on these topics, and I know that he will make our programs better going forward.

Thank you very much.

CAL RIPKEN: Wow, that sounds like a much bigger job than I signed up for. No, I'm excited. I've dedicated much of my time since I retired -- 2001 was my last year -- to try to promote and help the game. So we've done it through experiences and tournaments. We've done it through teaching. We've done it through our Foundation where we reach out to many areas and introduce baseball as a tool to get kids involved in sports and help them make better decisions in life.

So we've celebrated that, and we've had quite a bit of experience. I'm ecstatic and want to commend Commissioner Manfred on the initiative, formalizing the initiative, because we all care about the game. All of us that were lucky enough to play it for a living, we still want to give back to the game, but it seems like it is very segmented. We're all working kind of separately. The commissioner's office has brought formality to it, and we can all pool our resources together and really have a much bigger and better effect.

So I'm ecstatic to be in a role where I can help. I've always wanted to help develop the kids and let them see the joy that baseball can provide. It's a wonderful, wonderful sport. And I still think it's a little different than other sports. You don't have to be the biggest, strongest, and fastest. The skills involved in baseball doesn't discriminate on size, and it's wonderful to see a small kid step up and grab a bat and all of a sudden have great success. And to see his role, whether it's a Boys and Girls Club or a role on his team, all of a sudden you see the confidence level step up in the kid, and everyone else wants to know how you did that. So I've gotten a lot of joy out of it, and I look forward to helping in a more formal way.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: You know how important this initiative is to the commissioner's office. We'll certainly open it up for questions.

Q. Cal, what is the biggest obstacle to getting more kids involved?

CAL RIPKEN: I don't know if there's one obstacle. I know that the popularity of football, basketball, in what I know. And the area that I'm from, Lacrosse is a real big growing sport. As people choose sports earlier and they start to specialize in those sports, exposures to your sport are limited.

So I guess, in my opinion, just trying to get earlier exposures and kind of get the idea that it's okay to play multiple sports. At one point, you're going to have to specialize, and you're going to start to look at it, this is what I want to do, but I think, if you can get the concept of exposing and trying sports earlier, not get locked into one so much.

So I guess in some ways baseball is competing with all the other sports, but I would like to say that your athleticism can be developed by choosing different sports. I know basketball gave me a sense of quickness and explosiveness and jumping. Soccer gave me a chance to have agility and balance in areas that you don't really have another sport that you don't really use your hands that much.

So there's other value in your development of an athlete by the demands of each sport. I think just trying to get more exposure and change the mindset that you don't have to specialize so early.

Q. Cal, you basically had a plan of what you wanted to do even before you'd retired from baseball. What is it like for you to see this kind of come to fruition and grow the way it has?

CAL RIPKEN: Yeah, it's wonderful. I always want to know what's ahead of me, and probably I started planning on having an influence. I loved the fact that I had an influence on kids when I played. It was an opportunity to push them in a direction that you could positively impact them.

So upon retirement, I think I started some of my businesses a little too philanthropically and realize you can't support those, and I learned a few business lessons. But by and large, the goal was to spread the good word and try to get more kids playing and having them play baseball longer.

I think we've accomplished that in many different areas. Sometimes it feels like we're all going in different directions, which is, again, why I'm so happy with the formalization through the commissioner's office that you're using MLB at the top to say how important it is and glue everyone together sort of in the same mission. So it feels great.

Our Foundation, named after my dad, Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, uses baseball just as the icebreaker to get in front of kids. We play and we have fun, and we create mentors and trusting relationships, and we're able to direct them if a positive direction. That has gone gangbusters, and we're really happy and proud about that.

Our tournament experiences have been good. We're growing around the country, and we're really reunited with some of the teaching opportunities that technology now allows you to reach. We want to develop kids and give them a proper instruction. So those areas, I'm very proud of.

Q. You mentioned other sports. With soccer, all you need is a soccer ball to go out and play soccer. There's a perception, at least, that baseball is a little bit more expensive to get kids into. Kids don't play stick ball as much anymore. Is that a misconception or not? To what extent are there plans to address that particular issue to help kids get into it younger?

CAL RIPKEN: I was going to say Tony is probably the expert in that area over here. It is expensive to have equipment, but relationships with equipment companies are a good thing too.

TONY REAGINS: It's a great point. We're already addressing that issue. We already provide programming that's little or no cost to a lot of participants that we serve.

Having Cal on board and having his voice and his expertise, and he's been at it for a long time, over a decade and a half, we think that he's going to be very helpful in what we try to accomplish going forward.

But we already have programming in place that addresses the economic issue.

CAL RIPKEN: One of the cool things there too is just looking at issues on how to present the game in a more fun way, almost as if you were playing stick ball again like years ago. Be creative. Invent the game. Let's get it moving a little bit more. Let's challenge the skills. Let's not sit back and just have one ball and a coach hitting to nine fielders. Let's have them interact.

So some of the ideas of changing those games and formalizing maybe even tournament structures and games around rules that might not seem exactly like the same baseball game, I think that's an exciting opportunity to use our creativity and to teach baseball.

So I applaud those efforts as well.

Q. Cal and Commissioner, are the issues that are causing this initiative, are they at play internationally as well, or do you think the game is healthier with young people internationally?

ROBERT MANFRED JR.: I think it's difficult to talk about international as every place outside the United States. There's some places, obviously, places like the Dominican republic, Cuba, where a tremendous amount of baseball is played, really competitive baseball from an early age.

I do think the United States is different, however. I think that Cal said it well, there's two kinds of competition out there for kids. It's multiple sports, and it is specialization. I think that specialization reduces playing opportunities, and we feel we need programs here in the United States to address those particular competitive issues.

As you go other places -- it's interesting, when I was in Mexico about 60 days ago, they are very interested in playing initiatives. It's probably the single issue on which the professional leagues in Mexico and Major League Baseball have the most common ground.

CAL RIPKEN: The international, I've had a chance to travel a bit for baseball. Japan a number of times, four times China and Nicaragua. It's wonderful for me to see the enjoyment of baseball in those areas and to see the players from all over the world competing at the very top in Major League Baseball only seeds that back further.

I know going to China it felt like we were introducing baseball in many ways. There were some pockets of China that knew baseball and were playing it pretty well, but for the most part, it was an introduction. The enthusiasm for the sport made you feel like you were really making strides.

And Nicaragua, you just couldn't stop. I went down there with Dennis Martinez, El Presidente, and he's a hero down there. We tried to limit some of the kids so we could actually give them the best experience. They had more kids that wanted to play.

So to see the magic of baseball in international, you'd like to spread that, but I do agree there's a lot of things we can do right here at home that can help support and get more kids playing and get more kids to join the sport.

MODERATOR: I have a question actually if nobody else does. I was just wondering, in speaking with people before our little press conference, is this going to involve the RBI program, which has been a huge success for the league? Are they intertwined, Tony? Is this a joint thing?

TONY REAGINS: We're going to rely on Cal and his input and relations in really every aspect of youth programs, and the RBI piece is a part of that. If Cal thinks that we could do some things better and tweak it a little bit, we're open to those ideas. So RBI is on the table, and we're excited about his input in that area.

Q. Given the success of Ripken Baseball, does this program operate independent of that, or might you borrow some of the infrastructure of Ripken Baseball?

CAL RIPKEN: I think we live and we learn. So the best practices should always be looked upon. We've learned over time. We made tons of mistakes, and we've adopted some best practices on how to deal with kids in different age groups.

The Foundation has given us a lot more input on how to deal with players that haven't had the background in baseball as much, how we can energize them and get them to love the game.

So, yeah, I think any skills or anything that I've learned, I'd love to pass on. It's interesting, Babe Ruth renamed our division after me. So it's Cal Ripken Baseball from 5 to 12, and they did that back in '99, I think. I never looked at that as saying, okay, it's Babe Ruth and Little League and they're against each other. I think whatever Little League is doing, they're doing a fantastic job, you should learn from them. And if we have a suggestion or two and they're doing something, we should pass that on because the kids are the ones that benefit, and that's really the focus of what you should be doing things for. It's not competition between the two leagues.

I think we all have the same care for kids. I think we should all pool our resources, and we all should talk and use best practices. The people that are on the ground that function, they know the most, and they learn most. Sharing that information could help all organizations.

ROBERT MANFRED JR.: Our approach in this area has been to try to work with the multiple groups, great organizations that operate in the youth space. To work with them, to improve the programming that's out there, to make our own programming better.

One of the reasons that Cal was so appealing to us in this role was what you just heard a moment ago, his willingness to work with the variety of organizations out there to just develop the best possible practices, to give kids the best experience when they're playing the game.