Cal Ripken Jr. closes out children's book series with Howard library visit

Sporting an orange and black windbreaker and an iconic O's baseball cap, Clarksville resident Jim Vorce stood outside Howard County Library System's Miller Branch in Ellicott City on his birthday Wednesday evening, waiting to purchase "The Closer," the sixth and final book in Cal Ripken Jr.'s All-Stars series.

As a fan, Vorce said, the real excitement was behind the doors of the Ellicott Room, where the Baltimore Oriole's former shortstop and third baseman Hall-of-Famer was signing copies and sharing his experiences and challenges as a player; an event that sold out in under six minutes.

"I've been an Orioles fan all my life," Vorce said. "It's a tradition and I'm glad to see all these people coming out here."

John Maroon, Ripken's public relations spokesman, said Ripken harnessed his stories into a children's series — along with co-author and former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd — that is about youth baseball players and the obstacles they face as players and kids.

The latest book addresses sibling rivalry, Ripken said, with its main character, Danny Connolly, as a backup pitcher for his older brother, Joey, who's attracting all the attention from scouts.

"I always thought [the series] was a wonderful way to deliver a message, period," Ripken said. "When you read something, it's going to come to light a lot more quickly and be more meaningful than somebody telling it to you. … Baseball gave me a chance to have a platform to talk about the good things and influence kids in the right way. This book is just another tool in which to do that."

The series publication began in 2011, Ripken said, with the first book, "Hothead," discussing issues of bad tempers. During a question and answer session with the crowd Wednesday, Ripken said "Hothead" remains his favorite in the series, recalling how he dealt with his own temper as a young player with the help of his mother.

"My mom would say that energy was good and to channel it into something positive," he said. "She said, 'Instead of throwing something down, yelling, screaming, or pouting why don't you do push-ups with that energy, so you benefit from being stronger.'"

It's this positive outlook that Dayton resident Lynn Navarre said appeals to her and her children, Sam, 9, and Adam, 12. While they didn't get to see Ripken play on the field before his retirement in 2001, Navarre she's passed down Ripken's history and the influence he continues to have in the local community.

Ripken gained the nickname "Iron Man" after breaking the record in 1995 for consecutive games played formerly held by Lou Gehrig for 56 years.

"I like that he was with the same team and that he played so many games in a row," Navarre said. "I think it's a great example for my kids for perseverance, hard work and loyalty."

"I'm excited to see Cal," Sam added, a first baseman in his traveling baseball league. "I like all the baseball stuff he talks about in his books."

Christie Lassen, Howard libraries public relations director, said they were thrilled to host Ripken during his local book tour that is taking the former Oriole from Harford to Howard counties and into Washington, D.C., and Baltimore City.

"He just has a great message as an author but also as a player," Lassen said. "His message about perseverance and seeing things through is applicable for all ages."

Although the younger generation won't see Ripken on the field of Camden Yards, Vorce said he's happy to see the former player's work ethic and family values echoing throughout the community.

"You hear about athletes, nowadays, that make all this money, they get themselves suspended and get in trouble," Vorce said. "I'm not saying Cal Ripken is the perfect human being; none of us are perfect. But, he's a decent person, he's a great athlete and he's a great human being."

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