MIAMI -- As he greeted wide-eyed kids who were eager to play on the newly dedicated All-Star Field at Jose Marti Park on Monday morning, Cal Ripken Jr. explained to some of them that he used to play the game of baseball pretty often himself.As a matter of fact, the
MIAMI -- As he greeted wide-eyed kids who were eager to play on the newly dedicated All-Star Field at Jose Marti Park on Monday morning, Cal Ripken Jr. explained to some of them that he used to play the game of baseball pretty often himself.
As a matter of fact, the Hall of Famer said, he once played not too many blocks away from this place in Little Havana: in Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium, the Orioles' former Spring Training home that has since been replaced by an apartment complex.
"Bobby Maduro, my first Spring Training was '81, we were in that small space, and I remember living out on Key Biscayne, driving in to the ballpark, playing in Miami Stadium and thinking it was so big. Because at the time, I was a developing player," Ripken said. "I played here in '79 in the Florida State League, so all summer long. So I feel like it's familiar territory for me."
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On the morning of the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, Ripken was here along with Commissioner Rob Manfred, fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez, Marlins president David Samson and many dignitaries to introduce the latest of many All-Star Legacy projects being left as an imprint from Major League Baseball and the host Marlins.
This project featured a complete renovation of the field at Jose Marti Park, including: regrading the field to eliminate low spots, replacing the outfield grass with new grass, adding new high-efficiency sports lighting and a drainage system to help minimize weather-related delays. Additionally, all fencing and the backstop were replaced with new vinyl-coated fencing.
Other improvements include a new scoreboard, new dugouts with roofs and new bleachers with shade canopies. The renovations could potentially result in an additional 1,000-3,000 youth players participating in baseball and softball programming at Jose Marti Park.
"It really is a pleasure to be in Miami for the 2017 All-Star Game," Commissioner Manfred said. "It's a highlight of the summer for Major League Baseball, and Miami already has and will be a great venue for our Midsummer Classic. My favorite part of the All-Star Game every year is the Legacy program. It gives us a chance to get out in the community and leave something behind, so that people don't just have memories of the game, they have some infrastructure, something tangible that MLB contributed to the community."
MLB and the Marlins have donated about $5 million through MLB Charities and the Marlins Foundation toward several All-Star Legacy and Legacy Plus improvement projects, as well as to support national charitable initiatives. A portion of the funds will be raised from Gatorade All-Star Workout Day on Monday. This is the 20th anniversary of the MLB All-Star Legacy initiative, and MLB and host All-Star clubs have donated more than $80 million in All-Star charitable contributions over that time.
"Four of those projects [in Miami], like this one, will involve playing surfaces for young people," Manfred said. "Those playing surfaces are part of a larger initiative in Major League Baseball that we call Play Ball. It is our most important initiative, because it is an initiative that we are using to make sure that our kids love the game of baseball that we all do. It really is our most important responsibility."
Manfred gave a special thanks to Ripken, his special adviser for MLB youth programs and outreach.
"Cal has been extraordinarily helpful to me in terms of understanding the youth space, and helping us get into a position where baseball is the only growing sport of the major sports."
Samson shared a similar sentiment, noting the work that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation -- carrying on the legacy of the Iron Man's father and former Orioles manager -- has done tirelessly for years to create first-class youth facilities and show them how to play the game.
"Cal Ripken and what he did and what his group did for this park, and for Charles Hadley Park [on Sunday], they come in and all of a sudden there's an amazing field," Samson said. "It's not just that they know how to activate space ... they know how to get projects done. Too often things can be talked about. Cal Ripken Jr. doesn't talk about anything, he does that all."
Ripken commended MLB and all 30 clubs for "pushing out their power" to make safe places like this happen, thus creating more ballplayers. Ripken said he finds joy in telling a young ballplayer that he once played, because you have to "stand for something" after your playing career -- instead of expecting next generations to grasp what you did during your own younger days.
"I found out firsthand, after doing many of these fields in different areas of the country, that the community grabs ahold of it, and they say, 'This is a safe place for our kids to play,'" Ripken said. "Then there's sort of a widening of that safety net.
"I would say there are a lot of elements that are trying to grab our kids and pull them in the wrong direction. Sport is a good thing. Baseball is a magical thing, because you don't have to be the biggest, strongest and fastest to play it. We found that by teaching baseball -- and using baseball just to get the kids interested in something -- we found that they've really pushed toward more productive lives."
Dignitaries also included five-time All-Stars and former Marlins Edgar Rentería and Benito Santiago; Tomas Regalado, mayor of the City of Miami; Frank Carollo, commissioner of the City of Miami; emcee Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of The Miami Foundation; Billy The Marlin; and Marlins RBI players.
Distinguished guests also in attendance included the Clemente family: Roberto's wife Vera, and sons Luis and Roberto Jr. They will be on hand when MLB honors Latin-born greats in a special ceremony before Tuesday night's All-Star Game.
On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.