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Vi Ripken, matriarch of Orioles family, dies at age 82

Violet R. “Vi” Ripken, the widow of former Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. and mother of Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and former Oriole Bill Ripken, died Friday, the family’s longtime public relations representative John Maroon said Sunday.

She would have turned 83 this past Saturday.

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Born as Violet Roberta Gross, Mrs. Ripken was a German English descendant of families that had lived in Harford County for generations, working as farmers, blacksmiths, millers and laborers. The daughter of a mechanic, she met Cal Sr. at Aberdeen High School.

He was a catcher who signed with the Orioles in 1956 and spent his entire professional career with the organization, moving into coaching and managing once his playing days ended. The couple married in 1957, and Mrs. Ripken embraced the itinerant summers of a baseball wife. She later said that when Cal Sr. became the club’s manager in 1987, it was one of her proudest moments.

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The mother of four children, she is survived by Fred; Elly; Cal Jr., an Orioles shortstop and third baseman for 21 seasons and the sport’s record-holder for consecutive games played with 2,632; and Bill, a 12-season major league infielder for the Orioles and three other teams. Her husband died in 1999.

“We want to thank everyone for the tremendous outpouring of affection towards our mom and our family during this difficult time,” the family said in a statement. “Mom was an incredible woman who touched so many people throughout her lifetime. The void that she leaves in our lives cannot be filled but what she gave us has shaped who we are today and our memories of her will last the rest of our lives.”

An integral part of not only the sporting community but also the local community, Mrs. Ripken volunteered at the Harford County Boys & Girls Club since its inception, serving in various roles, including on the board of directors, according to a biography listed on the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation website. The club named a baseball field after her in 2014.

She also held an annual ladies-only golf tournament, Vi Ripken Diamonds in the Rough, raising thousands of dollars for the club. She was also involved with Special Olympics for many years.

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“I find I really enjoy it,” she said in a 2012 interview with The Baltimore Sun. “I’m not sure I made much of a difference, but they wanted people from the area who cared and wanted to make it better.”

The matriarch of Maryland’s most famous baseball family treated the ballpark like a second home, even though her boys stopped swinging bats years ago.

She attended almost every Aberdeen IronBirds minor league game each season in the stadium that bears her last name.

In 2012, then-IronBirds general manager Aaron Moszer told The Sun he could count on one hand the number of games Mrs. Ripken had missed throughout the past decade.

“I’m more like a goodwill ambassador,” Mrs. Ripken said in an interview. “I enjoy what they’ve done up there. … It’s good for the town and the whole county.”

Bill Ripken motions with a baseball as Cal Ripken Jr. hugs their mother, Vi Ripken, at the 2009 Cal Ripken World Series.
Bill Ripken motions with a baseball as Cal Ripken Jr. hugs their mother, Vi Ripken, at the 2009 Cal Ripken World Series. (Karl Merton Ferron)

And even though Mrs. Ripken had seats on the club level, she often roamed the ballpark greeting fans and employees, snapping photos with those who asked and happily discussed the thousands of games she watched as the wife of a manager and the mother of infielders.

Mrs. Ripken was abducted at gunpoint from her longtime Aberdeen home in 2012. She was bound in the back of her car and driven around Central Maryland for nearly 24 hours.

Then 74, she was returned a day later. The kidnapping puzzled the community, and though it left her initially startled, she was quick to get back to her regular routine of walking around the neighborhood and running errands despite some fears, she recalled to The Sun a year after the incident. The case remains unsolved.

Neighbors described her as the “kindest woman,” who maintains an immaculate yard and always waves as she passes in her car. And others frequently used the word “strength” to describe Mrs. Ripken’s role in her famous family.

When her children were young and her husband worked as a player or manager in various minor leagues, Mrs. Ripken packed everyone up in the family’s old Mercury and drive to towns in the boonies. She often thought of things to keep the children entertained like the license-plate game and promising a penny to the quietest child at bedtime (Cal usually won both).

Cal Ripken Jr. celebrates with his parents, Vi and Cal Sr., after breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record.
Cal Ripken Jr. celebrates with his parents, Vi and Cal Sr., after breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record.

The bond Mrs. Ripken shared with her son Cal was undeniable.

When he was drafted by the Orioles in 1978, Cal Ripken said, he often got homesick and called his parents often. If he needed advice, he talked with his dad, but if he needed a pick-me-up, someone to say “everything will be all right,” he called his mom.

The night her son broke the record for most consecutive games played with his 2,131st, Mrs. Ripken leaned against her husband. She hugged her middle son, Fred, and then in the next moment she was holding her hands over her face, crying.

Mrs. Ripken was the first to find out her son was retiring. She was milling around her home when he called and after some family chit-chat, he shared his big news. In an interview with The Sun in 2001, Mrs. Ripken recalled that her chest swelled a bit and her eyes watered for “two seconds,” but that was it.

“From day one, I’ve never understood all the hoopla,” she said. “I mean, isn’t this what life is all about — you go out, do a job, come back tomorrow and do it again?”

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