Cal Ripken Jr.

Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. turns 50 on Aug. 23, 2010. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / August 19, 2010)

It's hard to believe, but the fresh-faced kid who burst into the Orioles lineup in 1982, caught the final out of the World Series in 1983 and broke Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable consecutive games record in 1995 has reached the half-century mark. Cal Ripken Jr. turns 50 on Tuesday, so we thought it was a perfect time to sit down with him and talk about his great career, his reaction to the Big 5-0 and his plans for the future. This is the first in an occasional series of one-on-one interviews conducted by Peter Schmuck with some of Maryland's most talked-about sports figures.

Schmuck: Fifty years old. Is that a scary thought?

Ripken: I'm still acting like a child. No, and I don't know why yet. Normally, some people think about 50 as a big moment in life. I kind of think 30 because in your baseball career, 30 was considered on top kind of looking at the end of your career. So I remember thinking about 30 in different ways, but 50 just seems like another step right now.

Schmuck: Now I would have thought as a baseball player it would be 40 because 40 is, though you went a little bit beyond it, 40 seems like the most obvious age barrier for a baseball player.

Ripken: Yeah, but what people tell me about 50 is they look at it in reference to their whole life, and 50 kind of might be the halfway point. Up until 50 you're not thinking about the end of your life, and then at 50 you're starting to think about the downhill side. I don't know if that's true or not because I haven't felt it personally, but if I look at it in my baseball thing, I remember thinking much more at 30 the unknown about how much more you are going to play. You've been playing for a while, and it seems like you look at everybody else's history. As you said, Brooks Robinson played a long time, and I'm thinking, "OK, this is probably the halfway point," and you start to have doubts about the end of it. You didn't know when it was going to end. Forty, to me that was kind of easy because you're glad to be playing baseball when you're 40 and you know it's at the end, so there weren't any surprises. Maybe you get started later in life, in business later on in life, so my 50 might be someone else's 40 or someone else's 30. I'm not sure.

Schmuck: You know you're 50 when you go from being interviewed by ESPN to being interviewed by AARP.

Ripken: (Laughs.) I don't know what to say about that. Yes, I guess. I think I've been interviewed by AARP and actually spoke to the group when I was younger.

Schmuck: Fifteen years ago — two weeks down the road — 15 years ago, you broke Lou Gehrig's record. Does it amaze you that it was 15 years ago?

Ripken: I think that since I retired it's been the fastest 10 years, I think. In baseball, there were moments where it went really fast, normally when you were playing well and you were winning, and those seasons went by really quickly. The longer seasons were when you were losing and you're trying to figure out how to get to the end. When you look back on the streak, in many ways it seems like it was yesterday. It's still fresh in your mind. It's there. But then the realization really hits you when you see the images of your kids and you see a glimpse of that night on TV and you realize how small your kids were and how grown up they are now, and that's the reality that hits you that it is 15 years. In many ways, it doesn't seem like that. It seems like yesterday.

Schmuck: If you ask your fans, "What is Cal Ripken's greatest accomplishment?" they all would automatically go to that moment, and maybe you would have that day, but do you have a different perspective at 50 years old? What do you think is your greatest accomplishment of your first 50 years?

Ripken: Throwing baseball aside for a minute, I think the thing that gives you the most satisfaction and joy is to bring kids into the world and help them to prepare for their life. That, ultimately, is the most fulfilling thing. There's no road map for it. There's no book that says this is how to do it. You're operating off your morals and principles and your values, and you're managing and helping every step of the way, and it's hard. So, that gives me the … You know, even athletically when Ryan does a few things athletically or Rachel skiing when she does things, it almost seems like it's way more satisfying when they do it than if I did it. It's 10 times the feeling of satisfaction when they have success in doing something. Don't know why, but it's true. In baseball, the easy moment is the unique moment of 2,131 15 years ago turned out to be a wonderful human moment. There was a lot of interaction between many different parties, and that included my own family, my dad, the other team, the fans…

Schmuck: … and Joe DiMaggio. He wept.

Ripken: …Yes, Joe DiMaggio. You can keep going on and on about the interactions of people, which makes it a great drama and great event and you'll always hold that special, but if you're looking at a baseball moment, the feeling you get when you win the World Series by far exceeds anything else in the game that you're able to do.

Schmuck: And I'm not going to tell you how long ago that was …

Ripken: And that does seem like a long time ago in many ways, too. That goes all the way back. People that haven't felt that, if I'm comparing feelings that go through your body when you go through your full baseball career, and I was lucky enough to have a full one, that one moment, that happened early in my career, you catch the ball [to end the deciding game], and the fulfillment and satisfaction and the joy that comes with that one moment wasn't paralleled by any of the other things.

Schmuck: Cal, a World Series in 1983; two MVPs; you got to play with your brother and dad on the same team; 2,131; the Hall of Fame; and you've done a lot since then. You've had some tremendous success. You've done a lot of things you probably thought about doing while you were playing the game. So you're 50 years old, a half century. What's left on your bucket list?

Ripken: I don't look at it that way. We just got back from South Africa on a family vacation. I think my wife kind of looks at things on your list that you'd like to do while you can do them. We'd always talked about going to Africa and going on safari and we've all been interested, and for whatever reason you can make an excuse that the timing wasn't right and the kids' schedules and finally we had a window of time — about 10 days — and my wife said, "That's it, we're going," and we all went down there and had a great time on safari, and it was just the most unique, wonderful time you could have. It almost seems like the rest of the world goes away for a while and it's just you guys in that environment, which is so cool, and I think my wife in some ways thinks about what's the next thing on your list you want to see or you want to do. I'm someone that is a grinder from playing baseball every day, and the accomplishments that come as you grind and go through it, those are the things that are very satisfying. You forget, we're up in our [Cal Ripken] World Series now, and you see the kids there, and I think this is our eighth one in Aberdeen and 11th one overall and to really think about what it was like in the very beginning to where we are now, or look at the quality of the fields or how many kids have actually experienced joy there or Myrtle Beach, you know the accumulation of all those feelings mean the world to me. You forget that you have had some successes and you have moved the ball down the road as far as the World Series is concerned and the experiences for the kids and actually the quality of your tournaments and the quality of your teaching and your programming. All those things have grown up quite a bit. But when you're in the day-to-day grind, it just seems like it's another step along the way. But I find joy in the actual process, the journey, the work. It's not the end. It's not the end event.

Schmuck: You've created this great youth baseball program. You've got minor league parks and teams arrayed around the East. The last few months, there has been a lot of talk about this coming full circle and coming back to the major leagues. Where are you with that right now in your mind?

Ripken: I think you do a little long-term planning, and I did when I first retired. You take stock of what you want to do. I stayed attached to baseball through the kids and through minor league baseball, and I'm very satisfied with the schedule it allows me to have, which means I'm home until my kids go off to college. I value that time. I didn't have it with my dad, and since I had a choice, I chose to do that and chose to be there for all their events in their lives. And then when you start to look down the road, and I think we all think maybe in terms of five years and maybe sometimes as long as 10, but recently I've been starting to think about, you know, all this other stuff is great, but what do you really know about? And what I really know about is baseball at the highest level. So, those conversations have been ongoing with Mr. A [Orioles owner Peter Angelos] for a long time. I did talk to Andy MacPhail because I was in the design process for a little while with the spring training process and got to know Andy a little bit, so that naturally kind of elevated some of the conversations, but they're really just explorations of … how do you bridge back? If there is interest and there is opportunity, what kind of opportunity will it be? What are you interested in? What are you not interested in? And I think the urgency got pushed way forward when the Orioles got off to a tough start. Speculation then sort of occurs, and maybe there was wishful thinking on many people's parts, but, you know, then you have to deal with it in a way. For me, it's just an ongoing process. It's been that way and it continues to be that way, and I'm satisfied. I'm not ready to jump in with both feet these days because Ryan is a junior in high school and Rachel is a junior in college, so that timetable still important to me, and I won't separate from that.