There used to be something called the Oriole Way. Youngsters at the Ripken baseball camp are still learning it from Cal Sr.

THE OLD SCHOOL

July 03, 1998|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG — An article in the Today section July 3 on the Cal Ripken !B Baseball School in Emmitsburg incorrectly identified the baseball coach at Mount St. Mary's College. His name is Scott Thomson.

The Sun regrets the errors.

EMMITSBURG -- It's 8: 20 in the morning when Cal Ripken Sr. wades into the mass of young ballplayers jacked up on waffles and cereal and dreams of smacking one out of Camden Yards in the bottom of the ninth someday.

He's wearing a white polo shirt and blue sweat pants, and he looks tanned and fit as he smiles and signs a few autographs.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

On his left hand is the heavy gold ring of the Orioles 1983 World Championship team. In his right hand is a sheaf of papers and the first Lucky Strike of the day; at 62 and old school all the way, this is not the sort of man who browses through quit-smoking literature in the doctor's waiting room.

It's the first full day of the Cal Ripken Baseball School, nestled here among the soaring stone buildings of Mount St. Mary's College, and the man who runs the show is ready to go to work.

The restless kids awaiting roll call don't know it, but once there was a near-sacred canon of baseball instruction known as the Oriole Way.

If you played in the organization, you were taught the correct way to field a ground ball, the right way to push off the pitching rubber, how to hit the cut-off man.

Then if you stepped on the diamond in an orange and black uniform and did it any other way, someone would take your head off.

Very often, that someone was Rip Senior, who played and coached and managed in the organization for 36 years and had a voice that sounded like the bucket of a backhoe scraping a boulder.

They don't teach the Oriole Way much anymore; a look at the standings finds the O's dropping as if they're tied to an anvil. But one place they do teach it is here at the Ripken Baseball School, a two-week summer camp for kids 8 to 18 now in its 15th year of operation.

This kind of intense, hands-on instruction doesn't come cheap: overnight campers pay $450 for the five-day session that ends today, day campers pay $350.

But there are 174 ballplayers here, some from as far away as Canada, Florida and California. And the majority seem serious about the game, and serious about improving.

"Basically, we're getting the All-Star players, the good players, the players interested in going on and playing in high school and college," Ripken says.

At the Ripken School, campers and instructors alike quote his sayings the way the Chinese once quoted from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

There are 9 million little things in the game of baseball. If you do them right, you don't have to worry about the big things.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

After roll call, with the noise level approaching that of a honky-tonk at midnight, the campers and their instructors head off, and so does Cal Ripken.

He climbs into his sea-green Chevy 4x4 with Vi Ripken, his wife of 40 years, and heads for the manicured fields on the other side of Route 140, where it's clear he feels right at home.

On the fields

By 9, the sun is beginning to peek through the low, overhanging clouds. Each of the six fields bustles with activity.

One group of campers works on fielding, another on pitching, another on catching. Yet another group gathers on a hillock and listens to Wayne Risor, the head baseball coach at Shepherd College in West Virginia, who brings the passion of a revivalist preacher to his seminar on hitting.

"You want to be gripping that bat like it's a baby bird!" Risor, an intense, blocky man, intones. "If you squeeze it too hard, you suffocate it! Squeeze it too loose and it'll fly away!"

Ripken drifts over to one of the red-clay diamonds where Stanley Fitzwater is teaching base-running, specifically, breaking from home plate to go to first base.

Fitzwater, a varsity baseball coach at a West Virginia high school, is a dynamic instructor in his own right, with a baritone that seems to carry like a loudspeaker.

"We run through the bag!" Fitzwater says. "We don't want to slow down as we hit the bag!"

Ripken jumps into the discussion.

"We're trying to beat out a ball hit to the infield! Al Bumbry was the best in baseball at this," he says, referring to the former

Orioles outfielder. From the looks on some of the young faces, however, he might as well be speaking about Boris Yeltsin.

"Bumbry wouldn't stop until he ran into the outfield grass! Now watch me hit that bag and see where I run to."

The campers seem riveted by the sight of this Oriole sage running the bases with them. One of the boys is Michael Broache, 13, from Owings Mills, here at the Ripken School for the sixth year.

A likable, immensely precocious young man, he met Senior in spring training in 1992, Ripken's last year as the Orioles third base coach.

One night Michael was sitting in the dining room at the St. Petersburg Hilton in Florida, discoursing on the up-and-down fortunes of then-closer Gregg Olson with his parents.

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