Baseball a Third Parent to Cal Ripken, Jr.

Josh Elliott, Rich McHugh and Nick Poppy

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. was blessed with the talent and good fortune to spend the better part of his adult life playing what some would call a child’s game. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Ripken should devote so much of his post-playing career to developing young players, to helping young people grow up in the game.

Ripken helped construct a ballpark in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md., founded the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy, and recently penned “Wild Pitch,” his third novel for young audiences (with Baltimore Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd).

“Wild Pitch,” like Ripken’s other books, tells the story of a talented child trying to find his way in the game of baseball. It is a subject with which Ripken is intimately acquainted; his roots in the game run deep, for in a sense, baseball was his third parent. Ripken’s father, Calvin, Sr., was a player and coach, and this was something of a mixed blessing. Cal, Jr. remembers, “It was kind of exciting to be around the ballpark. But really what a kid wants is your dad there. And baseball took him away from me…there was sort of a hollow, lonely part of…having a dad in professional baseball.”

The young Ripken compensated, perhaps, by growing up to become one of the most renowned and respected players the game has ever seen. With over 400 home runs, over 3,000 hits and a record 2,632 consecutive games played, Ripken’s place in the firmament of baseball greats is secure.

Ripken even credits his parents with helping him preserve his run at the record books. After injuring his knee in a 1993 bench-clearing brawl during a game against the Seattle Mariners, there was some question as to whether Ripken would be able to keep his consecutive game streak alive. “I called my parents … [and] said, ‘Just want to give you a heads up, looks like I'm not going be able to play.’ And 45 minutes later - it was exactly 45 minutes from my mom's house to where I was - they were there.”

Ripken’s parents did what so many little league parents have done for generations – they supported their son. “We walked and talked, you know? We got through it.” As if by magic, feeling returned to Ripken’s knee, and he was able to play the next game. And the game after that. And, for that matter, several hundred games after that.