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'The Ripken Way' for parents

Retired Oriole's book offers advice for moms and dads in the stands

By Jonathan Pitts

Sun Reporter

April 8, 2006

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When O's legend Cal Ripken was putting the finishing touches on his instructional book, How to Play Baseball the Ripken Way, in 2004, he decided that no tome on the modern youth game would be complete if it failed to address matters that transcended on-the-field techniques.

As a father and baseball coach, Ripken, who retired as a big-league player in 2001, was seeing too many grown-ups screaming at 8-year-olds, badgering their coaches, and in general ruining the fun the kids were supposed to be having, and devoted his final chapter to the subject."Everybody needs to remember it's about the kids, not the grown-ups," said Ripken from Clifton, N.J., yesterday, where he'd just finished a crowded autograph session to promote what turned out to be the ultimate result: his newest book, Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way.

The baseball great, who also writes a freelance column on sports-parenting for The Sun, was in the New York area as part of an 11-city tour that has included, at some stops, town-hall style meetings where parents and coaches have shared their concerns. He has appeared on CNN, ESPN and network TV shows such as ABC's The View, and returns home tomorrow, when he'll sign copies of the book at the Books-A-Million store at Arundel Mills mall from noon to 2 p.m.

Few opinions on the game - on, off and around the field - matter more than those of Ripken, the ironman ex-shortstop who has spent most of the past five years promoting youth baseball nationwide. Always an astute observer of the game's inner workings, he compiled so many insights on the emotions surrounding it at the youth level that his Gotham Press editors persuaded him to devote a book to the subject.

Ripken, whose two children are athletes, says he first saw the need for such a book when he noticed that hyper-competitiveness in youth baseball had reached down to the 7- and 8-year-old level. Parents there were already encouraging their kids to specialize in one sport to the exclusion of all others, a move he discourages.

"That kind of seriousness - trying to create little Derek Jeters - didn't used to start until the elite 12's," says Ripken. "I was thinking, `This just creates too much pressure on kids.' They need to find an environment in which they can explore their game ... without all these kinds of pressures being brought to bear. Once I started thinking about it, I saw we had more than enough to fill a book."

He attributes such warped competitiveness, in part, to the pressure some parents feel to drive their kids toward earning scholarships - and even, perhaps, pushing them to pro sports.

"The odds are way against a kid taking any sport past high school, or in many cases, even as far as high school," he says. "So you should enjoy a sport, learn to do it, be the best you can be at it, but more important, learn the character lessons of sports for yourself."

That can be hard when the dad or mom of a teammate is on the sidelines screaming at the top of his or her lungs. At the tour's town-hall meetings, held at local schools, he says one question keeps cropping up: What do you do with out-of-control grown-ups?

He counsels approaching them reasonably, constructively and away from the field. In worst-case scenarios, he even suggests videotaping that adult's behavior for later viewing in private. When Ripken was first breaking in, he tossed a bat after striking out, and veteran teammate Ken Singleton made him watch it on video the next day. "I didn't like what I saw," he says.

"Most parents have good intentions," he says, "and I'd say not many realize how they actually come across. Seeing yourself can be an awakening."

In Parenting the Ripken Way, written in conjunction with sports psychology guru Rick Wolff, Ripken advises grown-ups to adopt the broader perspective a grandparent might have - one that projects acceptance, calm and a lack of excitability.

"Sports can teach so many lessons that will be a good basis for what you end up doing," he says. "Let's find the best ways to preserve those."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

Book signing Cal Ripken will sign copies of his new book, Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way, at the Books-A-Million store in Arundel Mills mall from noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow.