Ripkens to build field in Aberdeen for at-risk youth

Growing up Ripken gave Cal Jr. and Billy stability, something not every child has. Recognizing that, the baseball brothers and the foundation named for their late father are hoping to provide some stability for children in their hometown of Aberdeen.

A new youth development park, courtesy of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, is being planned to be built across from the Aberdeen branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County.

Cal Ripken Jr., along with his brother, Billy Ripken, and Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Chairman Francis Kelly, addressed the Aberdeen City Council Monday evening to announce the upcoming project. Billy Ripken made the announcement first, prompting laughs from the audience about being the "favorite son" for a few seconds.

Ground for the synthetic park, which will be named after Cal and Billy Ripken's mother, Vi, who was in the audience Monday, should be broken this year.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has been raising money and building these all-purpose, all-weather parks for years, Kelly said, starting at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

The purpose of the parks, and the foundation as a whole, is to use baseball as a "hook," Kelly said, to teach values to at-risk youths.

"The whole purpose is to try and reach at-risk youths and give them the same values that Cal Sr. gave to his family," he added.

These fields in particular, as Billy Ripken said, are to provide kids with a place where they can "feel safe, confident" and to "grow and learn."

"It's not about giving kids a chance to play in the big leagues," he said, "it's about giving kids a chance."

When completed, the field will be gifted to the Boys and Girls Club. It will also be 100 percent synthetic, Billy Ripken added, and even in 20 years will maintain its condition. Cal Ripken, too, spoke about Cal Sr. during the presentation, saying his father loved kids and influencing them.

His dad had an "affinity," Cal Ripken said, for kids who didn't have as much structure at home and it was in his spirit that they started the foundation and these projects. The announcement to name the park after his mother was a surprise, too, Cal Ripken Jr. later noted.

It was Vi Ripken who urged him to find a way to give back, Cal Ripken said, adding that baseball has been a platform.

Harford County Executive David Craig was also at the meeting and said that in addition to the city contributing the property, the county is working to secure grants to help the foundation raise the money necessary to build the park.

After his presentation, Cal Ripken reiterated the goal of providing at-risk youths with a safe place to be and an opportunity to grow "positively and productively," as well as the importance of bringing this project to his hometown.

Building the park in Aberdeen and incorporating the Boys and Girls Club "made perfect sense," Cal Ripken said, because of his parents' involvement in that organization, which Vi Ripken continues today.

"Sometimes you don't always think first of where you came from and I think we should," he said. "When we started building parks down in Baltimore, Billy and I, and our sister, Elly, were talking about how we can do it here, so we figured out a way to do it here."

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