Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

MLB alumni gather in Harrisburg to share memories, support Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation

Many former baseball greats assembled Thursday to support the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation at the MLBPAA's Harrisburg Fundraiser
Special to MLB.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- His career, as are all others in the game, was built on numbers.

The 3,184 hits. The 431 home runs. The stunning, record-breaking streak of 2,632 consecutive games played.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- His career, as are all others in the game, was built on numbers.

The 3,184 hits. The 431 home runs. The stunning, record-breaking streak of 2,632 consecutive games played.

Cal Ripken Jr. totaled that, and so much more, during a 21-year career that ended after the 2001 season with the Baltimore Orioles and celebrated again five years later with a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame.

Today, Ripken is motivated by different numbers, starting with 1.2 million.

As in the number of kids he influenced last year through the foundation named for his father, the longtime fundamentals guru, Minor League manager and Major League coach who, for three decades, taught countless Orioles how to play the game the right way.

Ripken's family started the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in 2001, the year the family patriarch died at 63 of lung cancer.

Since then, the foundation has built 66 youth fields throughout the country and has partnered with nearly 1,000 organizations and law enforcement agencies in 356 cities and towns spread across 43 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada and Nicaragua.

Field No. 67 is now in the works.

"We're continuing to reach more and more kids," Ripken said. "We've created a really good synergy, and we're making a mark around the country."

The fields are targeted for inner cities and at-risk youth.

"They are built in the spirit of baseball," Ripken said of the fields. "Some of them are baseball and football, and some of them are just football. We really don't care what they play in, just so long as it's a safe place to play."

According to the foundation, 69 percent of the youth reached by the program live in poverty with 55 percent of them coming from single-parent homes.

"We lost my dad way too soon at 63 years old. We sat down to try to capture his legacy," Ripken said, "and his legacy was all about helping kids."

The help starts with an investment of hope that comes in the form of new fields for a blighted, inner-city area with each field, Ripken said, costing approximately $1 million to build.

One of those fields is located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Ripken returned in mid-September for another Hall of Fame-heavy, celebrity golf outing to raise even more money for the foundation.

Harrisburg has become a familiar place to Ripken, who has hosted four such golf outings there since 2011 with more than $1 million raised for the foundation.

This year's event was no different as Ripken and the foundation attracted 20 Hall of Famers from baseball, basketball, football and hockey with the baseball contingent including Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Brooks Robinson and, of course, Ripken.

"We have some really good athletes here who are really good golfers," Ripken said with a smile, "and some fairly good athletes who aren't very good golfers … I think I'm in the second category."

This tournament, like the three others held over the years in Harrisburg, was run in the same precise, exacting style that Cal Ripken Sr. brought to his fundamentals-first teachings both on and off the field.

"He was all about fundamentals," Robinson said.

Robinson, now 80 and arguably the most fundamentally sound third baseman in the history of the game, knew better than most of Cal Ripken Sr. as much of his own playing career in the Majors came at a time when Ripken was developing future Orioles in the minors.

Like the rest of Baltimore's coaching staffs in the Minor Leagues then, Cal Ripken Sr. became a hands-on teacher of "the Oriole Way" that was first introduced in the late 1950s by Baltimore general manager Paul Richards and farm director Jim McLaughlin.

"We had a lot of guys coming through the system and they knew how to play," Robinson said of the Orioles' rich farm system through the 1960s and into the '80s. "They knew where to throw the ball. They knew what to do."

They learned in great part, Robinson said, from Cal Ripken Sr., who managed Baltimore's system from 1961-74 before becoming an Orioles scout in 1975 and finally joining Earl Weaver's Major League coaching staff in 1976.

"Cal Sr. did everything that the game demanded," Robinson said. "He was just baseball, through and through. That's where Cal Jr. got his work ethic."

Cal Ripken Jr. now uses those teachings -- the lessons from his father -- to help the foundation establish a rapport with at-risk youth with the hope of making a connection that turns into opportunities to mentor them.

"Dad was all about helping kids," Ripken said. "He used the magic of baseball to get those kids interested. Once he got them interested, he was able to develop a trust and guide them in the right direction … You can make a significant difference in a kid's life at the right time if you are moving in the right direction."

Robinson said the fundamentals of the game -- "the hard work, the discipline, the willingness to succeed" -- may be applied both on and off the field to those being helped by the Ripken Foundation.

With a dose of reality coming with the lessons, with the mentoring provided by the program.

"Everybody can't be a Major League Baseball player," said former New York Mets catcher and four-time All-Star John Stearns, "but you can take these values that you learned in baseball- - the dedication, the effort -- and you can teach people that you don't have to be a pro athlete to use the same values you get from baseball to be a success in life."

After playing his entire career in the National League, Stearns first became acquainted with the ways of Cal Ripken Sr. during his time with the Orioles from 1996-98 as a first-base coach and, later, a scout.

Stearns knew the son and brother, Billy Ripken, from their playing days with the Orioles, and now -- through his regular participation in the foundation's golf outing -- has come to know even more about the father and the Oriole Way he helped developed.

"He was impressive," Stearns said. "If you didn't know him, he seemed from afar to be real dedicated and strong. You didn't want to get him mad, but he was humble."

Cal Ripken Sr. also may have seen the glitz of a star-studded golf outing to benefit a foundation in his name as an antithesis to what his on-field life was all about.

"This is what everybody wants, that when you pass away you have something like this to carry your name forward," Stearns said as former stars-turned-wannabe-golf-pros prepared to tee off. "Cal and Billy have done a great job keeping his name in the loop. I'm sure he's up there now and looking down on all of this, and he has to be thrilled."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.