After a 21-year major league baseball career that took him from Baltimore to Cooperstown, Cal Ripken Jr. says he's still amazed at where the sport continues to lead him.
Ripken will make his second trip for the U.S. State Department as an American Public Diplomacy Envoy next month when he and former Orioles teammate Dennis Martinez tour Nicaragua on a goodwill mission that will use baseball as an international handshake.
"Never in a million years would I have expected to be doing something like this," Ripken said yesterday. "But I love baseball, I've always worked in baseball and now I'm able to help bring goodwill to different parts of the world through baseball, and it's a great experience."
In August 2007, Ripken was appointed to his envoy position by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and two months later, he made his first goodwill trip to China. Next spring or summer, he'll make another goodwill trip to South Africa.
During the coming tour of Nicaragua, scheduled for Nov. 13-18, Ripken said he expects to meet kids who are skilled at the game and others who are not so skilled. But it really doesn't matter, he said.
"It's about connecting with people. … If it happens on the advanced level that's great, if happens at the introductory level, that's great, too," the Hall of Famer said.
Having along ex-pitcher Martinez - a Nicaragua native who won 245 games with five big league teams and is affectionately known as "El Presidente" - "will make it a lot easier," Ripken added.
While in the Central American country, Ripken, Martinez and two other Ripken Baseball instructors, Tim Gebhart and Matt Backert, will conduct instructional sessions for about 100 coaches and approximately 500 youth players, 8 to 12 years old.