Ripken becomes U.S. special envoy

The Baltimore Sun

From Cooperstown to China. That's the road Cal Ripken Jr. is traveling.

About two weeks after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ripken has been named a special sports envoy for the State Department. It's a role that will take the former Oriole overseas to help teach the game on a global level.

First stop: China. Ripken, 46, will visit in October as America's second special sports envoy. Michelle Kwan, five-time world figure skating champion, was chosen as the country's first such envoy in 2006. Kwan has traveled to China and Russia on diplomatic missions that the Bush administration hopes will help bridge cultural differences between nations.

Expectations for Ripken are the same.

"Cal is an All-American hero ... who is dedicated to helping children," said Darlene Kirk, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in Washington. "He is someone people look up to and who will help show what Americans are really like to audiences who may have little contact with Americans.

"What do we expect of [Ripken]? We just want him to be himself. He is a outstanding role model for everybody worldwide."

On Monday, Ripken will be introduced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a Washington news conference. He is already anticipating his visit to China, Ripken said yesterday.

"This will be a really cool trip," he said. "Bringing baseball to a country where the game is not fully established will be challenging and exciting."

Ripken will not be paid for the work, but travel expenses are paid by the State Department.

Already, he has embraced an outreach program with the Asian nation. Currently there are 12 youth coaches from China attending a two-week baseball camp at the Ripken Academy in Aberdeen.

Though Ripken has visited the Far East, touring Japan with the Orioles after their World Series victory in 1983, he has never been to China.

"I do like Chinese food, though," he said.

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