Ripken clan makes series family affair

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hang around Ripken Stadium this week and you're bound to bump into Cal Ripken - as well as his mother and three siblings. The whole clan is taking part in the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen.

The Iron Man and his brother, Bill, are there, having organized the event. Cal's sister, Elly, slips into the stands when time allows. The accounting manager for the Aberdeen IronBirds, she works at the ballpark.

Fred Ripken, their older brother, serves as a tournament host, having opened his home in Havre de Grace to two youngsters from Missouri who are competing in the Babe Ruth League-affiliated 12-and-under event.

From her seat in the club box, Vi Ripken, 65, matriarch of the bunch, keeps an eye on the ballgames and her brood.

Anybody want a Ripken autograph, or five?

Vi watches the series through the lens of the family's legacy.

"I wish someone else were here to see this, but [life] doesn't work that way," she said. Her husband, Cal Sr., longtime Orioles coach and manager, died in 1999. "I'm sure he's looking down on all this and busting his buttons with pride," she said.

Elly Ripken agreed. "Dad's interest [in baseball] was the teaching aspect, and bringing the kids along," she said. "This tournament goes along with everything he loved about the game."

For 16 years, Cal Sr. ran a youth baseball camp in Emmitsburg and dreamed of someday moving the base closer to home, in Aberdeen.

"Rip and Junior had even looked at places around here [in Harford County]," Vi said. "The wheels were turning" when he died of cancer.

The stadium, and the championship, would have passed muster with Cal Sr., she said.

"For some of these kids, this tournament will heighten their love of the game," Vi said. "Others will say, 'I'm happy I did this, but now I want to do something else.'

"Either way, the experience of having played here will stay with them forever."

More so if they were to take home some Ripken autographs. "I've signed a lot in the last few days, though I keep asking, 'Why me?' " said Fred, a machinist by trade.

Playing host to those two Missouri players, Austin Kight and Melvin Johnson, has been a hoot, said Fred: "First, we went swimming in the [in-ground] pool at my mom's house. Then I cooked dinner for them, burned the steaks and had to start over. The steaks looked like old shoes.

"The kids thought that was hilarious. Hey, you've got to make them feel at home."

This being the Ripkens' hometown, Vi has been asked to sign scorecards herself during games in Aberdeen.

"I just smile, and do it, and say, 'Thank you for asking,' " she said. "It makes people feel like they've achieved something.

"Maybe they'll throw [the scorecard] in the trash on the way out of the park, but for the moment, it makes them feel good."

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