Cal Ripken Jr. said Friday that he never could have imagined that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation would spread his father's legacy to 61 new or renovated youth ballparks around the nation. And Cal Sr. couldn't have envisioned it either.
“Having the [foundation] grow and having the influence and the success we’ve had, we’ve been able to help many, many more kids, but Dad would have looked at this in disbelief just like we are," Cal Jr. said. "But I tell you what. He’d be really happy about it.”
The newest project broke ground Friday at the ball field complex behind James Mosher Elementary School. It will be named Eddie Murray Field at BGE Park, obviously in honor of Ripken's close friend and Baseball Hall of Famer.
Brooks Robinson was there. So was Baltimore mayor-elect Catherine Pugh, City Council president Jack Young and CEOs from BGE and the Ollie's Discount Outlet retail chain, among many others.
"[Murray] was a great model on how to play the game -- how to be a great teammate because all those things were important – and how to reach out in the community," Ripken said. "I mentioned Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton and Brooksie and the way he was, and Ed did things that a lot of people don’t know.”
The Mosher Baseball complex has been the epicenter of African-American youth baseball in urban Baltimore for nearly six decades and will now have a state-of-the-art synthetic turf baseball diamond, new dugouts and a digital scoreboard.
Ripken said the focus of the foundation's youth development park initiative is to increase coaching and mentorship opportunities for at-risk kids. That goal is slightly different from the RBI program promoted by Major League Baseball, which is attempting to build a foundation of African-American participation that eventually will reverse the declining number of black players in the major leagues.
Ripken is part of that effort, too.
“I’m part of a group in the commissioner’s office that’s trying to appeal and get the younger generation of kids interested in baseball, and part of that initiative is to appeal to the African-American players," he said. "Because I think when you do a quick analysis, I think the other sports have done a little more to appeal to them. Football had taken them away and basketball has taken them away. There are a lot of really great, talented baseball players that you want to say, ‘Our game’s not boring.’ Look at our game and try to look at ways where you can expose and get them playing our game."
The foundation is working on a more basic level to give kids safe places to participate in sports and benefit from the character-building aspects of teamwork and mentor relationships.
That's why Baltimore police commissioner Kevin Davis was in attendance supporting the foundation's "Badges for Baseball" program that puts kids and cops together at baseball camps.
"This is less about finding the African-American [major league] baseball player," Ripken said. "You might, but that’s not really the goal. This is about the kids and to help keep them from having the negative influences pull them. Make them productive and hopefully give them opportunities to learn about themselves, and learn how to work together with people through sport.
"Like the 'Badges for Baseball' program, which is all designed to get the community and law enforcement together playing different roles. The kids can benefit from the advice from law enforcement and the coaching, and law enforcement can benefit from them being seen in the community as good people."
Ripken, who has downscaled his minor league involvement to focus more on this outreach, wants the kids to know that the youth development initiative is not just about baseball.
“We’re partial to baseball because that’s what our lives have been and it’s been my life for a very long time," he said, "but we call them youth development parks because you can do anything you want in a really nice place. You want to encourage everyone. You want to encourage the community to grab hold of this place and celebrate it.”