Cal Ripken, Jr. Builds a Field of Dreams in Baltimore

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 Bob Levey / Getty Images

Earlier this week, Cal Ripken, Jr. blew a chance to get himself in the record books one more time. As part of the kickoff for this year’s Cal Ripken World Series, held in Aberdeen, Maryland, the Ripken family’s hometown, 721 people simultaneously blew bubbles with Big League Chew, enough for a Guinness World Record-certification.

Ripken, however – Major League Baseball’s “Iron Man,” holder of the record for consecutive games played – didn’t take part: He was at a doctor’s appointment. His brother Billy says he participated from afar: “I blew a bubble in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

The Ripkens did reach another milestone this week, christening the 25th Cal Ripken Youth Development Park in Aberdeen. The multi-purpose parks feature synthetic turf that requires low maintenance.

“The idea is that some of these kids, maybe they don’t have a whole lot to look forward to,” explains Billy, who played more than a decade in the majors. “We’re finding a lot of traction with the upkeep and the care – not only that facility, but the facilities around them start to become a little better.”

The Ripkens say they were driven to build the fields in tribute to their late father, Cal Ripken, Sr., who managed both sons on the Baltimore Orioles.

“Dad lost his own dad really young, at 10,” says Cal Jr., the Hall of Famer. A lot of the young players who use the Ripken fields don’t come from two-parent households, he explains. “One of the lessons he passed down to us was, if someone is less fortunate than you, how can we help? We’re giving these kids something they don’t have in everyday life.”

When Ripken agreed to lend his name to Cal Ripken Baseball, the Babe Ruth League affiliate that has replaced Little League for kids up to 12 years old in many towns across the country, one of his biggest concerns was self-important coaching.

“That’s something Billy worked hard on,” he adds. “We arm them with information that can help them be better coaches, so they can ultimately serve the kids better.”

He shrugs off any suggestion that Ripken Baseball is putting a squeeze play on Little League, which is now celebrating its 75th anniversary. “We’re not trying to recruit anyone away from Little League,” he adds. “We’re trying to do the right thing for kids, and promote baseball all around. Both programs are doing pretty well.”

He’s been hearing the alarms about youth baseball for years. The numbers are declining; more young people are playing soccer, lacrosse and other games; video-game kids are not playing sports at all; black kids are no longer taking to the sport.

As Ripken’s Iron Man record suggests, he prefers a steady approach. “In general, there are probably less kids playing. But of the kids that are playing baseball, they’re playing more of it. We could all do a little more trying to promote the sport at a grassroots level.”