Cal Ripken Jr. seemed to enjoy his orientation trip to upstate New York this week, but even in the idyllic small-town setting of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he could not escape the big-city questions about the troubling state of the game.
The purpose of the visit was to get acclimated to the area in advance of his late July induction ceremony and enjoy the ultimate VIP tour of the Hall and its research facility. That also was the focus of an intimate news conference with a handful of reporters, but no conversation about baseball - it seems - can end without discussion of performance-enhancing drugs.
Ripken understands he is a symbol of all that is right about baseball, but he did not dodge the issue. He allowed that he has grown weary of the lingering steroid scandal, but said Wednesday that he will not join the rush to discount the legitimacy of Barry Bonds' march toward the career home run record.
"The fact that there is a [cloud] of suspicion has made it not as big a celebration," Ripken said. "I'd like to think that until there is evidence or proof that he's done something wrong, you would give him the benefit of the doubt."
It should be pretty obvious by now that I'm not a big fan of Bad News Barry, but we should applaud Ripken for standing up for the presumption of innocence, even if it seems apparent to almost everyone that Bonds cut a huge ethical corner to make his run at Hank Aaron's hallowed mark.
What if?Imagine what the Hall of Fame buildup would be like if Mark McGwire had been elected along with Ripken and Tony Gwynn. The combination of the latest steroid revelations, the Bonds home run chase and the induction of McGwire would have cast a giant shadow over the induction process.
Tour highlightRipken said his favorite stop on the Hall tour was the stadium architecture section, where there are blueprints and artifacts from many classic ballparks.
"I like the stadiums and like seeing how they evolved," he said.
That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering Ripken has sampled baseball's historic architecture in his youth baseball facilities in Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"I played in an era 10 years in Memorial Stadium and 10 years in Camden Yards," he said. "Camden Yards sort of changed the design and a lot of new stadiums came in during the tail end of my career and I was able to see them go from ideas to completion.
"Post-baseball, I've tried to take some of that magic down to the kids."
RipkenvilleImagine the logistics of inviting, housing and entertaining 325 family members and friends for a weekend. That's what Kelly Ripken is organizing with the help of the Hall of Fame staff.
Cooperstown is a village of about 2,000, so tourist accommodations are extremely limited. Many residents leave town for the weekend and rent their homes to Hall of Fame visitors.
Most - but not all - of the Ripken guests will get rooms in town. Gwynn also will bring a huge group, and then there are the 60,000 or so fans who are expected to make up the biggest induction crowd in history.
Cal's biggest fearRipken isn't the first incoming Hall of Famer to wonder how he will get through his induction speech. Even the normally stoic Eddie Murray had to fight back tears on that stage.
Just watching a film that the Hall of Fame is putting together for the induction ceremony put Ripken -never known for outward displays of emotion - in a sentimental mood Wednesday.
"I would imagine when you start reflecting, you get a little mushy," Ripken said. "You kind of harden yourself when you're [playing]. When you retire, you think back and you let your guard down a little bit.
"That's cool, but I imagine that will hit you more when it [the induction ceremony] actually happens."
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