Cal Ripken and brother Bill were on hand yesterday to open The Ripken Experience-Myrtle Beach, a $23 million facility in South Carolina that's as close to a dream complex as middle school players might have.
Intermixed among the seven existing fields - two more are under construction - are individual batting cages, pitching warm-up areas and smaller fields for infield practice.The facility will host weeklong tournaments for under-11, 12- and 13-year-old classes.
The idea was born from the Ripkens' hoping to re-create what they felt walking into Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium for the first time. It generated a lifelong love of baseball they say they'll never abandon.
"We put a lot of effort into the fields because we want to `wow' the kids," said Bill Ripken, also a former Oriole.
The fields and walkways were packed with young players clinking bats and charging grounders. "The best part about walking around was to see the energy of the kids," Cal Ripken said.
There are 30 teams from states as far away as Wisconsin and Arizona competing during opening week. Teams are housed at nearby villas. The cost for the tournament is $675 per player and coach.
As his talks with young people proved to him, the game of baseball will stand strong through the steroids scandal. "I think the sport's resilient, [which] you see the kids at this level and see the honest, pure competition they face," he said.