Cal Ripken Jr. Hopes To Promote Baseball To Youth In New MLB Post

Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun, December 7, 2015 

Nashville, TN--Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. has served as one of baseball’s best ambassadors both as a player and in retirement. Now, Major League Baseball is enlisting Ripken to help unite youth baseball and softball organizations to create more interest in the sports.

During a news conference at the winter meetings Monday afternoon, Ripken was named special adviser to the commissioner on youth programs and outreach.

Ripken will work with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB’s youth programs department regarding strategies and initiatives aimed at growing interest in baseball and softball at the amateur and youth levels.

There will be a specific focus on building playing opportunities for children in underserved communities.

“One of the reasons that Cal was so appealing to us in this role is … 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,” Manfred said.

Ripken said one of his focuses will be helping to expose children to the game at a younger age and advocate that kids grow up playing different sports.

“I know [there’s] the popularity of football and basketball … and in the area I’m from, lacrosse is a real big growing sport,” Ripken said. “I think if you can get the concept of exposing or trying sports earlier, not get locked into one [is important]. So I guess in some way, baseball is competing with other sports. I’d like to say your athleticism can be developed by playing other sports.

"Basketball gave me a sense of quickness and explosiveness and jumping. Soccer gave me a chance to have agility and balance in areas where you don’t have in another sport because you don’t use your hands all that much. ... I think just trying to get more exposure and changing the mindset that you don’t have to specialize so early.”

Ripken, who owns businesses that promote baseball, said he’s excited about having the opportunity to unite other organizations with the same goal.

“I just think MLB has such power around with all the kids and the influence, and a lot of players tend to act by themselves,” Ripken said. “So, the idea that MLB is gluing all those players together, the players association and MLB is working in conjunction for this initiative and I think that’s really healthy, too. 

"Because it starts to organize and get all the players who have time and value that can give back, you can really look at it more as a business as opposed to just everybody acting on their own. The excitement of getting everybody together and having a much bigger effect is exciting to me.” 

MLB and the players union launched a new initiative in July focusing on programs that promote the growth of youth baseball and softball programs in the U.S. and Canada.

Since retiring from playing in 2001, Ripken has been dedicated to the growth of youth baseball. Ripken Baseball runs youth baseball and softball programs and tournaments across the country, including at his Aberdeen complex and locations in South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which is named in honor of Ripken’s father, uses baseball-based programs to draw youth to the game in underserved areas. The program has built more than 50 youth development parks -- multipurpose fields in areas of need that give children a safe place to play sports -- across the country. 

“By and large, the goal was to spread the good word, get more kids playing and have them play baseball longer,” Ripken said. “I think we’ve accomplished that in many different areas. Sometimes, it feels like we’re all going in different directions, which is 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 with the same mission.”