Seven-year-old Christopher Werner said fast pitches are awfully tough for him to hit during baseball season. So he sought guidance from someone who can hit the fast pitches.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Christopher and 944 other Ripken seekers -- more than 700 of themchildren -- journeyed to Aberdeen High School last Saturday for tipson baseball skills from Ripken, his brother, Bill, father, Cal Sr. and major-league coach Jimmy Williams.
The Ripken Baseball Clinic raised about $17,000 for the Harford County Boys and Girls Club, said Charles R. McGough, its executive director.
The club, which operates out of Halls Crossroads Elementary School and Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, provides programs to keep area children off the streets and given them information to strengthen their social and academic skills.
McGough said the club, which sold tickets at $20 and $25, was ecstatic to have the Ripkens assist the fund-raising effort. Vi Ripken, Cal and Bill's mother, is on the club's board of directorsand encouraged her sons and husband to take part in the event.
The trio were a big hit.
Almost every seat in the auditorium was taken The crowd ringed the basketball court and spilled out the doors. Many of the children wore clothing that let everyone know they were either an Orioles or Ripkens fan.
Eight-year-old Bryan Montambault was fashionably ready for the Ripkens' baseball lessons, decked out ina black Orioles shirt, a white-and-orange team hat, white pants, andblack and orange socks.
Cal Jr. is Bryan's idol. While talking about Ripken, he shyly pulled out a picture of himself with Ripken and former Oriole Larry Sheets taken several years ago.
"It feels likeit's worth a lot of money," he said.
But on this day, said Bryan,"I came just to have fun and play baseball with Cal."
Christopheralso was ready for advice from some major league players, especiallythe Ripkens. He sat, wide-eyed, in the first row of the bleachers with a black Nolan Ryan-autographed glove that held a baseball.
Mostly, though, he watched as Cal and Bill Ripken stood in the middle of the basketball court and lectured about the proper techniques of playing the infield.
"I came for (them) to throw the ball around," said Christopher. "I would like to learn to do better and stuff like that."
Pat Welsh, 13, stood just outside the gymnasium, straining to hear Cal Sr.'s voice at the start of the day's activities. Like many children, he held a ball in his glove and a pen in his hand, hoping for an autograph.
But for the young teen learning about baseball was more important than autographs, though landing a Ripken autograph did motivate him to make the trek to Aberdeen from Bel Air. "I think it would be a great opportunity to learn some tips from a great local player," said Pat.
Nine-year old Ronald Samuels sat at the edge ofthe basketball court as the Ripken brothers lectured about 50 feet away. Ronald sought some tips with regard to third base.
He was hopeful that the Ripkens' advice could improve his game. Still, he couldnot believe Cal Jr. was so close to him, at times only about 25 feetaway.
"Usually, I'm so far away in the stands at baseball games,"said Ronald, "I can't see him then unless I have binoculars."
Children were not the only ones star-gazing. Adults were snapping pictures or taking videos from the stands or the floor.
McGough was among the adults thrilled to see the Ripkens. "Just to have the excitement of the three Ripkens here, I think, is a statement," he said. "Theycame back to their high school."
The Ripken brothers, both Aberdeen High graduates (as is their mother Vi) returned as the school celebrates its centennial.
Cal and Bill have donated baseball equipment like bats, balls, batting gloves and hats, along with special autographed items to the club, some of which was given out at the clinic.
Knowing that the young baseball enthusiasts have sat through a number of clinics, Cal. Jr. preached patience.
Many kids who like baseball have been to many clinics. Cal Jr. understood that and preachedpatience to the kids to listen throughout the day.
"I sat througha zillion of these things as a kid," he told the youngsters.
The children, however, were simply awed to see the brothers, especially Cal. They quietly sat in the stands with their eyes riveted on Cal as he spoke. Bill got the treatment, too.
As he walked from one end of the gym to the other, showing the correct way to grip the baseball,heads swung back and forth in unison as if watching a tennis match.
Some enterprising youngsters made their way to the edge of the basketball court and were able to lie down only a few feet from their heroes.
McGough said the children "realized these stars were 11 and 12 once; they were just like them. They couldn't turn the double playeither. It takes practice, practice, practice."