Ripken talks youth baseball, MLB career at festival

Cal Ripken Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr.

WINCHESTER – Imagine a pressure situation on the baseball diamond. There are runners at the corners with one out in the late innings of a tight game, the batter at the plate stares down a 2-2 count trying to find a way to drive in the tying or go-ahead run.

Now imagine that scenario was created at the start of an inning before a hitter even stepped into the batter’s box.

That’s Cal Ripken Jr.’s vision for youth baseball, an innovative take that could change the way kids learn the game. Ripken, hired in December as a special adviser to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred on youth programs and outreach, is searching for ways to get children more involved in the sport he’s made such an impressionable mark on, and in doing so he’s tossing out the traditional in favor of some radical rule changes.

How about beginning each inning with a runner on base, or having the leadoff batter in an inning facing a different count? Or both? Instead of an inning consisting of three outs, give each team five batters. How about requiring players to take the field and get to their positions in 12 seconds or less in between innings, and awarding teams an extra batter in the final inning if they beat the 60-second total through the first five frames.

Those are the sweeping changes that Ripken and MLB are tinkering with in order to pique children’s interest and eliminate aspects of baseball that kids might find slow and lacking intrigue.

“In the early stages kids are kids and they want action,” said Ripken, the sports marshal for the 89th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, on Saturday morning. “And so there’s a lot of action in baseball. Sometimes it comes intermittently, so we decided we’re just gonna create the action in the game and think about the game outside of the traditional three outs is an inning and let’s try to create situations that produce action.”

Ripken, a Hall of Famer who operates a youth baseball complex in Aberdeen, Maryland, among his many other post-playing career endeavors, said the idea for the changes stemmed from a similar structure used in showcase camps, designed to evaluate players in specific game situations. He said six-inning youth league games have already been tested using the new format, which has been received “pretty well.”

Youth baseball was just one of a handful of topics Ripken explored prior to taking the podium at Saturday’s Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast at the Winchester Moose Lodge.

Ripken, long a coveted target of Apple Blossom officials as a potential celebrity guest, is another baseball highlight in terms of baseball in Winchester. The city hosted the Cal Ripken 10-year-old World Series twice in the last five years – once in 2011 and again in 2014 – and the Frederick County National Junior League all-star team advanced to the Junior League World Series championship game last August.

“The game has benefited me a lot, so I always enjoy the influence that you have with young people,” said Ripken, a former Baltimore Oriole best known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak.

“We’re looking forward to doing a lot of things that would help kids understand the game, maybe present the game in a more fun way and get more kids playing. In the last year I think baseball participation is up 4 percent and it was in a declining sort of state that other sports were grabbing the baseball players, so we’d like to compete and get players to understand baseball again.”

As he addressed a capacity Sports Breakfast crowd – much of which adorned the black and orange of the Baltimore Orioles – Ripken discussed the two factors that enabled him to piece together one of the most storied professional baseball careers in history: a strong sense of conviction he developed from his family, particularly his father, Cal Ripkin Sr., and an ability to remain consistent and contribute to his team in any way possible.

Cal Ripken Jr. rode those two traits to a 21-year career with the Orioles, during which he accumulated 3,184 hits and 431 home runs. A 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, the shortstop-turned-third baseman was the 1982 Rookie of the Year, a World Series champion (1983), a two-time American League MVP, winner of two Gold Gloves and eight Silver Slugger awards and a 19-time All-Star.

Nicknamed “The Iron Man,” he broke Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games played on Sept. 6, 1995, and went on play in 2,632 straight contests, a record likely never to be broken (Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was the only player to play all 162 games last season).

Ripken credited former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray for helping him develop the mentality required to play every day for 16 seasons.

“I know Eddie Murray didn’t get credit but he played nearly as much as I did,” Ripken said. “He played 160, 162 games a year. I think he had a couple streaks where it was in the 500s or 800 games. So I think it was just the sense of responsibility and that’s what I learned from Eddie. Eddie said it’s important for you to be in the lineup, even if you’re not feeling well, even if you’re not up to it. It’s important for you to be in there. And Eddie’s presence was something that I aspired to do.”

Ripken, who hasn’t dealt much in the MLB level since retiring in 2001, aside from his job as a playoff analyst with TBS, didn’t rule out a return to the big leagues in the future, possibly as a manager.

“There’s been a couple rumors around and fortunately people think of me in a managing sense sometimes. And sometimes I sit and think about it, what you learned and what you know, you might wanna apply that at some point,” Ripken said. “But I’m really content doing what I’m doing right now. Trying to impact youth baseball and then the job of special adviser to the commissioner is kind of a fancy title for youth baseball, but it gives you an opportunity to really impact the youth baseball, so that’s a real position to me and I look forward to really helping.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

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