Ripken's game plan has schools, camps With career near end, second one in works

December 03, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Looking to establish a post-playing career teaching baseball, Cal Ripken is going to camp. Later this month, he will open the first in what he hopes will be an international chain of baseball schools for youth. And in January, he will convene a four-day fantasy camp for aspiring teammates willing to pay $8,000 for the experience.

The enterprises could lead to a lucrative second career for the venerable Orioles infielder. He has one or two more seasons left on his contract, depending on whether the team exercises an option for 2000.

Also going strong for Ripken: sales of memorabilia related to his breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak. Demand for these goods picked up this year after Ripken took a day off on Sept. 20, establishing the record at 2,632 games.

Ripken is a leader in the sales of licensed memorabilia. Forbes magazine estimates that he earned $6.5 million in commercial work in 1997, about a quarter of it coming from memorabilia. This was on top of his $7.5 million a year salary from the Orioles.

Everything from gold-plated baseball cards to Cal Ripken's Fantasy Baseball software is for sale.

But the costliest bit of Ripkenalia to date is a ticket to "Cal Ripken Jr.'s Cactus League," open to 52 campers aged 30 and older from Jan. 6 to 10. Similar to camps offered by basketball stars Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, it will mix major-league instruction with big-league schmoozing.

The fee buys four nights at the Boulders, a luxury resort in Carefree, Ariz., round-trip transportation, uniforms, equipment, meals and evening entertainment.

Baseball instruction will be provided by Ripken, four major-league managers and a few pros who will drop by (pitcher Randy Johnson, for one).

"When the economy is strong, there is a market for people looking to fulfill their fantasies," said Ray Clark, head of the Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based player agency and sports marketing firm.

"I think its a smart thing for players to do," Clark said.

Ripken is wise to get his camps up and running now, before he retires from the game and begins to fade from the public eye, he said.

For the right player, a camp offers a source of income and a lucrative vacation. But not everyone with a pair of gym shoes can pull it off.

"It's such a high-end type of thing, it's only the superstars that can do it," said Magic Johnson's agent, Lon Rosen.

Ripken would seem to qualify: Polls consistently rank him among the nation's most revered athletes. And the end of his streak last fall brought new attention, and national exposure, to his durability.

Cactus Leaguer David Manoogian, a 54-year-old Washington lawyer and die-hard Ripken fan, said he hasn't played baseball for 25 years, but found the opportunity to meet and play with the Orioles All-Star too good to pass up. He signed up.

"I'm going to have fun. I'm going to be terrible. It doesn't bother me if everybody laughs at me. But just having the chance to meet Cal Ripken is worth it. I have such tremendous regard for him," said Manoogian, a Silver Spring resident and senior partner in the health-law department of Epstein, Becker & Green.

He was unspectacular in youth ball. Since seeing an ad for the Ripken camp and signing up, he has begun a twice-weekly regimen of practice in a batting cage. But he's keeping his expectations in check.

"I'm in good shape because I exercise. But I have no hand-eye coordination. I didn't have it as a kid, and I can't imagine bifocals have helped," he said.

The popularity of fantasy camps, which give well-heeled clients the next-best thing to a second childhood, has grown since retired Chicago Cubs catcher Randy Hundley first convened one in the early 1980s.

Generally, such camps are staffed with a mix of veteran and Hall of Fame players looking to pad their retirement earnings. The cost is typically $3,000 to $4,000 per camper.

Magic Johnson upped the ante in 1988 when he opened his once-a-year "Executive Camp" in Hawaii, which now costs $6,500 to attend.

But NBA MVP-for-life Jordan took it to a new level two years ago,

For $15,000, campers at Jordan's Senior Flight School get three days and four nights at Bally's Las Vegas, shooting hoops with His Airness and an array of pro or college coaches and players. The 80 participants, 35 and older, must pay their own transportation.

Ira Rainess, general counsel for the Tufton Group, which handles Ripken's commercial endeavors, said the camp is attracting a lot of interest. It was initially offered at $12,000 and advertised in the Wall Street Journal.

But sportswear apparel maker Starter agreed to sponsor the event, and the price was lowered to $8,000 (partial refunds will be made of campers who paid the higher fee).

Ripken is doing it as much for fun as money, Rainess said. But he is also looking beyond his playing days and sees baseball education as a good business opportunity, Rainess said.

The player is opening this month the first of what could become an international chain of schools for youth, devoted to teaching baseball "the Ripken way." A camp jointly run with New York Mets pitcher Hideo Nomo in Hawaii will be held from Dec. 25 to 30 and will charge each camper $2,450.

Next summer, a pair of U.S. camps will open at locations still to be determined, Rainess said.

The faculty could include Ripken's brother, former Orioles second baseman Bill Ripken. Because the camps would be conducted during the season, Cal would make only occasional appearances, but would oversee instruction.

Eventually, he would like to have camps around the country and overseas. He will look first to Latin America, probably in combination with a native-born superstar.

"Baseball is his livelihood. Teaching the game, passing down the things he learned from his dad, is something he can pass on," Rainess said.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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