Ripkens open new youth baseball field at Memorial Stadium

It was 19 years ago — and about 30 degrees warmer — when Cal and Billy Ripken played in the last game at Memorial Stadium. But on Tuesday, when they replanted home plate in its old spot off East 33rd Street, the past returned as if on a welcome summer breeze.

"It does make you think of all the memories you have of playing here," Cal Ripken Jr., said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new youth baseball diamond opening in the old home of Baltimore's Orioles and Colts.

"My favorite one is hitting my first home run and shaking Dad's hand," Ripken said of his father, Cal Sr., then the third base coach and later manager of the Orioles. "No words were exchanged, but it was a good moment for a dad and a son."

Joining the Ripkens to cut the red ribbon stretched across the new home plate were Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and other supporters of the $1.5 million project.

The funds were raised by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which was started by the Ripken brothers in honor of their late father and dedicated to bringing baseball to disadvantaged youths. The project received $400,000 from the state's Program Open Space funds.

"What a fitting tribute to have on this hallowed ground," O'Malley said.

The park will return sports, albeit at the amateur level, to a site that was home to so many great Baltimore pro teams. The diamond has a removable center field fence that will enable it to be converted to a football field — in the same orientation as the gridiron on which the Colts played.

Tuesday's ribbon-cutting was the first time former Baltimore Colt Joe Ehrmann had been back since his playing days.

"It gets your adrenalin pumping," the former lineman said of stepping back on the grounds. "You can hear the band playing in the recesses of your mind. It's great to reclaim this field."

With new housing and other buildings surrounding the site, he and the other former Memorial Stadium denizens at the ribbon-cutting said it took a couple of minutes to get reoriented. But once they did, the details were as clear as if they'd happened yesterday.

"The stadium was rocking," Cal Ripken said, remembering the heart-stopping end to the 1982 season when the Orioles were three games behind Milwaukee with four games to go. "We beat them in a doubleheader. We win Saturday. We're all tied up. The fans come with brooms. We have Jim Palmer on the mound."

Despite the 10-2 loss and the end of the season, Ripken said he still thinks of that series when he drives past 33rd Street. Now, he hopes the kids who will play there will make memories of their own.

Called Youth Development Park, it is the first of 18 such facilities that the foundation plans to open in at-risk communities in six states. This one is to be managed by the adjacent Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Family Center Y at Stadium Place.

Morgan Scroggings, 12, a student at the nearby Stadium School, was among a group of kids who attended the ceremony and said he looked forward to playing on the field. Maybe not baseball, though.

"I played it once. It's fun, but not as exciting as other sports," he shrugged. "I play football and basketball, and I wrestled for five years."

Which is probably OK with Cal Ripken, who says the park is more than a place for kids to play sports.

"You just want them to find themselves," Ripken said. "You just want them to grow and develop into being good, productive citizens."

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