Ripken won't take off as a role model either

INSIDE THE ORIOLES

August 03, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The accident on the highway stopped traffic en route to the airport in Pittsburgh.

Gridlock does not care who is on board, doesn't care when his flight is scheduled to depart, doesn't care why he needs to get where he is going.

Cal Ripken arrived at the airport way behind schedule. The final boarding call long since had come and gone and Ripken was in danger of missing his flight to Orange County, Calif., where the Orioles would start the second half of the season the following day.

But there he stood, propping an elevator open with his luggage, signing autograph after autograph before finally having to excuse himself and rush to catch the flight.

Nobody could have faulted him for not taking the time to sign autographs, but he always does when his schedule allows. Sometimes, as his airport rush indicated, he signs even when his schedule does not allow for the break.

Convincing arguments for both sides of the debate as to whether professional athletes assume the responsibility of acting as role models.

Ripken pondered that question early in his career and looked at it through the eyes of a child.

"I know that when I was a kid I looked up to professional athletes and I molded some of my behavior after them," Ripken said. "When I became one myself and was put in a position of influence I made a conscious choice to accept that responsibility and turn that influence in a positive way. And I think the reason I did that was because I remembered what it was like when I was a kid."

A lifelong fan of the Orioles, Ripken very much liked what he saw of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, an idol of Ripken's.

"I looked up to a lot of different players, but Brooks was the one I watched most closely," he said. "On the field and off the field, everybody in Baltimore liked him."

As his days of becoming a role model started, he still had role models of his own.

"Eddie Murray had a very strong influence on me," Ripken said. "Ken Singleton, Al Bumbry. Not only did they play baseball, they contributed in the community, did good things for the city of Baltimore."

So has Ripken. Among the contributions Ripken has made to the community was a $250,000 donation to an adult literacy program facility.

One of the lessons Ripken learned from his father was reinforced by Murray, who stressed to him the importance of being a player teammates could count on having in the lineup on a daily basis.

So when Ripken said on Monday night after playing his 2,000th consecutive game, "I've never been obsessed with Mr. Gehrig," it didn't ring hollow.

Smith's father improving

Lee Smith reports that his father, hospitalized recently by a stroke, is doing much better but that he still frustrates his relatives by stubbornly clinging to an unhealthy diet.

"He's doing much better, but he still wants everything fried," Smith said. "Once after he had one of his strokes, I picked him up at the hospital and he begged me to stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home."

Smith has used most days off during the schedule to return to his native Castor, La., to be with his family. If there is a players strike Aug. 12, Smith will return to Castor, spend time with his father and partake in his favorite pastime, fishing.

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