Bill Ripken is happy to settle with home on Rangers

April 09, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

The scene is the third base coaching box at Camden Yards, 2 1/2 hours before last night's Orioles game against the Texas Rangers. Cal and Bill Ripken are standing around, talking baseball.

Nothing new there. Not even the Texas on Bill's uniform is unfamiliar now, after a season in Arlington. Still, meeting his former Orioles teammates on the field -- not in the clubhouse -- is strange.

"When we go to Toronto, a lot of guys still come up to [reliever zTC Tom] Henke," said Bill Ripken. "When you're with a team for a length of time, you don't forget the people you've been around."

But the fact that Bill -- who got his first start of the season last night and drove in a run with a fifth-inning bloop single to center -- is in a Texas uniform in the first place is surprising, given that he has been turned loose by two major-league clubs in the past 16 months.

"I played well enough in spring training to earn a job and I'm looking forward to playing anywhere," he said. "I don't think it's anything significant that I'm starting here, but I'm pleased to see my name in the lineup any time."

He's probably pleased to see his name on a roster, period. Last season was frustrating for Bill Ripken. He was released by the Orioles in December, 1992, and signed with the Rangers as a free agent in February. With Texas, he had two stints on the disabled list, one lasting from mid-June to early September, when his left hamstring pull was reaggravated.

Even when he was healthy, Ripken got little playing time.

He appeared in only 50 games last year, batting .198 and sitting behind Doug Strange, a preseason non-roster invitee.

The Rangers granted Ripken free agency after the season, but signed him to a Triple-A contract in December. It was clear that it would take something extraordinary for him to make the major-league club.

"Maybe I didn't talk to him as much as I have [in spring training] because I knew his situation was pretty tight," said Cal Ripken. "Not that he was worried, but a little more concerned."

Texas first base coach Mickey Hatcher said: "He came to spring training and he didn't have a job. We didn't know what we were going to be able to do with him."

But, with the hard work and perseverance that Baltimore fans came to know and love for parts of five seasons, Ripken earned his way back onto the Texas roster.

"Making this ballclub feels as good as anything I've done," said Ripken, 29. "I was considered a long shot and I guess I did some things that they like, some things that impressed some people."

Said Hatcher: "He worked hard and really impressed the coaching staff and won a spot. I've never seen a guy dive on his face, his back, wherever, and the ball goes right in his glove every time."

Ripken has been playing not only second for the Rangers, but also some shortstop and third, to demonstrate his value as a utility player.

The experience of having to fight for his baseball existence might actually be a positive for Bill Ripken, according to his brother.

"I'm sure he'd rather have had the luxury of coming in and being a starter at second, but having to come in and prove himself for the first time in a while, in the long run, will probably be better for him," said Cal Ripken.

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