Ripken discovers much is same as lone ranger

February 25, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- By most any standard, it was no different from the first full-squad workout of every other spring training.

Except that the guy in the Texas Rangers uniform wearing the familiar No. 3 knows it can never again be quite the same.

This is the seventh big-league training camp for Bill Ripken. But it is the first in a uniform trimmed in colors other than orange and black -- and without his father and brother.

"It's still the same," Ripken said when asked if it felt different being in a Texas uniform. "People still ask me about Cal, and about my dad."

That much had been awkwardly obvious a few minutes earlier. A spectator was taking pictures while Ripken signed autographs for a few youngsters who weren't waiting for Jose Canseco.

"Did you stop by Sarasota on the way down?" the man asked.

"Why would I do that -- they fired me," Ripken replied without missing a stroke of the pen.

"To see your father," suggested the man with the camera.

This time, Ripken stopped and looked. "Sir, they fired him, too," said the youngest member of baseball's most famous current family. "They fired him before they fired me."

En route to the clubhouse, Ripken said: "I don't think he reads too many newspapers."

Ripken quickly learned that the fan wasn't the only one behind on his baseball news. When Canseco, who arrived after midday and confined his workout to the weight room, walked to his locker, Ripken walked over to say hello.

Canseco had his back turned when he heard someone call out "Jose." When he turned around to face one of his new teammates, Canseco had a blank look on his face.

"Bill Ripken," said the ex-Oriole, breaking a brief silence. While shaking hands, Canseco looked at Ripken quizzically.

"What are you doing with us?" Canseco said.

"I got fired," replied Ripken, using what had become his favorite word of the hour. Canseco said he didn't know Ripken had been released.

"Fired," said Ripken. "I like that word better; released just doesn't cut it."

He had reported a day early and worked out with the pitchers and catchers the day before, but this was the first day position players were scheduled to participate.

"There are always a lot of strange faces the first few days, whether you're with the same team or not -- because they're always bringing in new people," said Ripken. "This year there are just a lot more for me."

He will need time to feel his way around and make himself at home. "If everything goes right and I make the team, I'd say it would take at least until Opening Day before I can act like myself," he said.

Acting like himself means being a central figure in the clubhouse banter, cutting up and acting like a kid who's having a good time. A lot of people think it is, perhaps, the part of Ripken's makeup the Orioles will miss the most.

Ripken was more like himself on the field. He easily fit into small talk around the batting cage, he still has the bounce to his step and the peppy enthusiasm that is often contagious.

When he arrived in camp, Ripken asked the Texas and Florida media to give him a few days to get acclimated. And he was hesitant to discuss his situation with someone from Baltimore.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable coming in here and saying anything before I had a few days to get my feet on the ground," he said.

He was asked about the on-field breakup of his family by the Orioles. "We really haven't talked about it much," said Ripken.

"I talked to Cal [Jr.] when he came to my house for the Super Bowl and told him we were talking with Oakland and Texas. Mainly, I looked to them for support for my decision, which I basically had already made."

As for splitting up with his brother, not only as infield partners, but as teammates, Ripken had a typical response. "I think we're both professional enough to handle it," he said.

"We're as close as two brothers can be, but we don't have to spend every waking moment together. Sure, I'm going to miss him, and I think he'll miss me -- but I'm going to miss more than just Cal.

"They really have a good group of guys over there -- and I wish them a lot of luck when March Madness [the NCAA basketball tournament] comes around. It might not be the same up there when they have to get somebody to run their pool for March Madness," Ripken said.

That was as close as he came to imitating his usual manner.

"I haven't thought about it," he said, when asked again if it felt different to pull on a uniform other than that of the Orioles. "I don't know -- does it look funny on me?"

Although he says there were a lot of anxious moments after he was released, Ripken said that he's been able to focus on the TTC Rangers since signing a minor-league contract on Feb. 1. "Up until then, I was going out of my mind," he said.

"For a while, there was nothing going on -- and I mean nothing. But once we [he and agents Ron Shapiro and Michael Maas] started talking to Oakland and Texas, I started relaxing and getting myself ready."

At 28, with a little more than five years in the big leagues, he is ready to start over -- without operating in the shadows of his dad and brother.

Yesterday was the first full day of the rest of his career. And, as fate would have it, if he's successful it will resume in Baltimore -- on Opening Day, April 5.

Bill Ripken's stats

Yr... ..Team.. .. ..Avg... .G.. .H.. .R.. ..RBI

.Orioles.. . .308.. ..58 ..72...27.. ..20

'88.. .Orioles.. . .207.. .150..106...52.. ..34

'89.. .Orioles.. . .239.. .115.. 76.. 31.. ..26

.Orioles.. . .291.. .129..118.. 48.. ..38

'91.. .Orioles.. . .216.. .104...62...24.. ..14

'92.. .Orioles.. . .230.. .113.. 76.. 35.. ..36

Totals.. .. ... .. .244.. .669..510..217.. .168

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