Friends, strangers pay tribute to Cal Ripken Sr.

Hundreds of well-wishers attend viewing of man who exemplified `Oriole Way'

March 29, 1999|By JAY APPERSON | JAY APPERSON,SUN STAFF

They fell into line on the sidewalk along Aberdeen's South Parke Street, then inched across the funeral home's threshold and into a parlor adorned with photos and flowers in orange and black. Many were friends, some were fans, but all had come to pay their respects to an old-school baseball man whose teachings transcended sport.

They'd come in tribute to Calvin Edwin Ripken Sr., the wiry former Orioles manager who died last week of lung cancer at age 63. For two hours yesterday afternoon, family members -- including his widow, Violet, and his two baseball-playing sons -- accepted sympathies from a stream of hundreds of well-wishers.

Some, like Tammy Weaver, knew of Ripken from his decades as baseball's version of a drill sergeant, when he schooled young prospects in the fabled Oriole Way.

"We're really big fans," she said. For her, that was reason enough to drive from her York, Pa., home to attend the viewing in the heart of small-town Aberdeen.

Others in the line were Harford County folks who went back many years with Ripken. For them, it was a day to share memories of an exacting competitor whose gruff exterior concealed a warm side.

J. Robert Hooper, a state senator from Harford County, played soccer with Ripken in the late 1950s, when Baltimore was a hotbed for the sport. He said Ripken was a player-coach who led a band of country boys into the city's winter league -- and to a 17-game winning streak.

"But we couldn't win the championship because Rip was in spring training," Hooper said. He said soccer referees suffered black-and-blue marks on their chests from the combative Ripken's finger-pointing arguments.

Ripken could be just as salty on the subject of politicians, said Hooper, adding: "He'd say, `What the so-and-so are you guys doing?' " But when Hooper hastily assembled his first run for Harford County Council, Ripken lent his name as honorary campaign chairman.

"That's the kind of friend he was," Hooper said. "He had a heart bigger than he was."

Joanne S. Parrott, a state delegate from Harford County and former president of the County Council, recalled Ripken's work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County. "He always had a wonderful glint in his eye when the children came up to him," she said.

Dan Welsh of Kingsville played with Ripken for the Class C Phoenix Stars in 1957. He remembered the tireless worker who happily pitched batting practice.

"He loved the game of baseball more than any man I've ever seen," Welsh said. "He was a very good man, and I'll miss him."

Myrle Riddle, 76, went back further. He said he played semipro baseball in 1946 with a teammate named Oliver Ripken. Oliver had a younger brother named Cal, Riddle said, adding: "He was our batboy."

Inside the funeral home, Oliver Ripken nodded at the memory. He was one of several family members who shook hands with friends and strangers. Behind him was a collection of photographs showing his brother in uniform, in baggy flannels from his days in the minors and in the colors of the Baltimore Orioles. Many showed him with his sons Cal Jr. and Bill.

Vacation snapshots and photos of a young Cal Sr. with his bride were displayed. Orange-and-black flowers were arranged with a depiction of crossed baseball bats.

Cal Sr. lay in an open casket, with grandchildren's notes to their Pop-Pop and a baseball autographed with a child's scrawl.

The viewing at Tarring-Cargo Funeral Home -- another session was scheduled for last night, with two sessions from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today -- was the public's chance to mark Ripken's passing. A memorial service and burial scheduled for tomorrow are open only to family and close friends.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski emerged from the viewing yesterday and said Ripken's popularity can be tied to a fierce work ethic that played well in a town with a blue-collar heritage.

"I think it's the way Baltimore wants to be, which is to be good at what you're needed for and show up every day," she said. "Cal Sr. is really not only Mr. Baseball and Mr. Oriole. His whole idea of the Oriole Way is not only a great philosophy of baseball but a great philosophy of life, and he lived that."

As mourners were lining up at the funeral home, the Ripken legacy was saluted in other ways in other parts of Aberdeen. Cal Sr. would have undoubtedly smiled at the sight of a youth baseball team taking batting practice -- led by a coach who grew up with the Ripken boys in Aberdeen.

In a front yard on Paradise Road, a father slipped his hand into a catcher's mitt and helped his 13-year-old son shake the winter's rust from his pitching arm. John Stephens Jr., taking a break from catching John Stephens III, said Ripken left words to live by.

"Nothing sums it up to me like those two: Stick with it, and be there every day," Stephens said. "I applaud that."

Pub Date: 3/29/99

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