Cal Ripken Jr. stopped by The Baltimore Sun this morning as part of the promotional tour for his third children's novel, "Wild Pitch," which came out today.
The book – about a young pitcher who loses his confidence after beaning an opponent – was co-written by Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd.
Before leaving on a book signing tour that will include stops in a number of spring training spots (including the Orioles' camp in Sarasota on Thursday), Ripken sat down for a quick Q&A touching on the O's, his color commentary, the late Earl Weaver and his son Ryan.
How did you first have the idea to start writing children's books, and is this something you ever thought you'd be doing back in your playing days?
I thought being a baseball player always gave you a platform to help kids and use your experiences to help them deal with certain issues a little bit better. The book became a really good venue with which to do that – to bring a story to live and to deal with a social issue that was difficult for me to deal with. You wonder if some kids dealt with the same things I had, so this gives them a chance to break the ice and see that those issue are out there. And it gives you some tools to handle it.
Were you a big reader as a kid?
I liked reading, and I read mostly sports stuff. I collected programs and sports magazines. I remember there was one book that made an impression on me, it was called "Relief Pitcher." I don't remember if I took it out of the library, but it was at a point where it wasn't a kids book anymore – you were actually reading it. … So it makes you feel a little bit more grown up.
I read now, mostly non-fiction. I like history stuff. I like business stuff. Yeah, I like to read.
With this year's Orioles team, obviously the expectations are a lot different, and you've been on teams with high expectations and low expectations. Is it different when you go into a season like this?
Well, I think optimistically most people in spring training look at their club and maybe you give yourself some unrealistic expectations that you're going to be in the thick of things. But this year, the Orioles, they proved they were a playoff team last year and they seem to have a little bit more depth in their starting staff. They have some competition to choose the best five, and it's comforting knowing that if somebody goes down with an injury, they have some depth with the starting staff.
And the bullpen is going to be good. Buck Showalter, one of his skills is that he handles the bullpen fantastically well. You saw that with all the one-run games last year. So then it's just a matter of playing defense and scoring runs, and the Orioles have a good nucleus to do that.
You were around the ballpark a lot last year with all the sculpture ceremonies and the fact that you got to call some of the playoff games on TBS. How fun was it for you just to be around the team during that?
I thought it was fantastic. It's been a long time since that sort of energy was around the ballpark. Yeah, we all know it's associated with success and winning – that's what you're selling at the big league schedule.
I think the statue celebrations last year gave sort of an emotional tie back to the past. I thought the Orioles did a fantastic job of bringing those all together, and it really did invoke a lot of emotion from all of us. And to have it play out like it did with the Orioles winning and pushing it down in September, the feel was electric.
I was really happy for that team but also for the city of Baltimore. It's a great sports town, and it was evident in September.
In my days, Yankee Stadium was louder than our ballpark. But last year, our ballpark was louder than Yankee Stadium.
You could get that sense from the broadcast booth?
Just being in both venues and hearing the sounds. In a pitching change in the sixth inning or the seventh inning of a game in [the old] Yankee Stadium, you could barely hear yourself talk. But my sense was, from my vantage point in the booth, [that it was louder at Camden Yards].
Plus we had a noise meter. [Craig] Sager had a noise meter down there [on the field] that showed it. But it just felt like it was way more electric and noisy at Camden Yards than at the new Yankee Stadium.
Did you enjoy the booth atmosphere better than being in the studio the previous year?
Yeah, I think so. In the studio you watch all the games and you watch them really carefully. But you don't really have a chance to bring a thought to life. Being in the booth, if you see something and you want to give it to the viewer, you can give that special insight.
Sometimes in the studio that insight might be relevant or irrelevant to how the game went. So, you have smaller sound bites in the studio and you have to summarize your thoughts a lot more. When you're [at] the game, that's what I paid attention to my whole career, those subtle nuances to the game and how the game played out. So, [being a color commentator] is a good forum to communicate that.
It was kind of funny. I felt like all the emphasis was that I had to be careful not to be biased towards the Orioles, and in some cases I think I went too biased for the Yankees. In the end, you're trying to interpret what's happening in the actual game, which I think is fascinating. And my awareness started to really come back to me. So hopefully I identified a couple things that people thought were valuable.
A lot of people here kind of raised their eyebrows when you said that Adrian Beltre was the best [defensive] third baseman [during the AL wild-card broadcast]. Have you heard about that in the offseason a little bit?
[Smiles] Well, that's all in context. It's born from a belief that the game has gotten better. My dad used to always say that the best players of all eras could play in any era. And your contribution and Brooks [Robinsons'] contribution to defense, other [players] are watching you, they're adding their own flair to it, [and] I think that ends up making it better.
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I was just trying to pay a compliment to Beltre in a way that was appropriate. And I was just looking at the physical skills of a third baseman. So, blurting that out there kind of created a little bit of an issue. If you're thinking about all the other intangibles and all the things that Brooks brought to third base, you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy better than he was.
Losing Earl Weaver in the offseason, did that make it even more special getting to have all the Orioles Hall of Famers together last year?
Yeah, I mean, I thought it was special, period. But in light of the recent news about Earl, I thought we all felt a certain kinship during that process. We really shared some old memories, and it was great that Earl had a chance [to be a part of it].
Earl's speech was one of the more emotional ones. He got himself choked up a few times, and that got us all a little choked up. He talked about my dad. So, yeah, in hindsight I'm really glad that he was around for that ceremony.
I see you're wearing your South Carolina jacket. How is Ryan doing down there? [Cal's son Ryan is a freshman baseball player for the Gamecocks.]
Ryan is redshirting, so he's not going to get a chance to play this year. But he keeps his year of eligibility. It's a very good team down there, and breaking in as a freshman is not easy to do. So, he's working hard in the weight room and in the batting cages. I know it was a decision where it wouldn't have been worth getting a few at-bats in the season and then blowing your whole year [of eligibility]. It was a mutual decision that is probably best for him.
Sometimes a situation like this turns out to be the best thing for you. He's extremely motivated, which I think is a great thing. He's dealing with it.