Ripken gets back to work

Orioles: Like his dad would have wanted, Cal Jr. wastes no time returning to lineup after Tuesday's funeral.

April 01, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken returned to work yesterday.

Little more than 24 hours after his father -- former Orioles coach and manager Cal Ripken Sr. -- was laid to rest in Aberdeen, he suited up and joined his teammates for pre-game batting practice at Space Coast Stadium.

It's a Ripken thing. The work ethic that was instilled in him by his father would not allow for a long mourning period. Ripken slipped back into his old routine. He even signed autographs before and after taking his place in the Orioles' starting lineup for last night's exhibition game against the Florida Marlins.

"I guess I should have talked to him before I wrote his name down [on the lineup card]," said manager Ray Miller a few hours before the first pitch.

So Miller went into the clubhouse to make sure that baseball's all-time iron man wanted to jump right back into the lineup after missing eight days of spring training.

"I said, `I've got you in there. I figured you'd expect that,' " Miller said. "He said, `You've got that right.' "

There aren't going to be many more opportunities to tune up for the regular season. Including last night's game, Ripken will get just four games in before the Orioles open the regular season against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Monday at Camden Yards.

Ripken left the club on March 23 to be with his father, who was in the final days of his battle with lung cancer. Ripken Sr. died last Thursday at the age of 63 and was buried Tuesday after an emotional funeral service at Grace United Methodist Church.

So, in keeping with the father's no-nonsense approach to baseball, the son tried to treat yesterday like it was any other day, even though everyone else knew that it wasn't.

The only concession to his grief was a request to the reporters covering the Orioles to delay any interview requests until he feels more comfortable talking about it.

Miller thinks he knows how Ripken is feeling. He lost his father 23 years ago and his wife's father died during the 1998 season.

"It still hits me," Miller said. "There will be certain times like birthdays and holidays, or when somebody uses a phrase your dad always used. Cal will experience that a lot.

"I'm sure me and Crow [hitting coach Terry Crowley] will a lot of times say something that Cal Sr. always said. I'm sure that will trigger some memories."

Miller said he had no reservations about playing Ripken on his first day back in camp, because of Ripken's durability and obsessive dedication to remaining in playing shape.

"He'll be all right," Miller said. "Only because, just as his dad always believed, he believes that the best shape of your life is supposed to be on the first day of spring training."

Ripken started his first day back by going to the batting cage with Crowley, who was the Orioles' hitting coach when Cal Sr. served as manager in 1987 and part of 1988.

"All I told Crow was not to try and get in eight days of work in one afternoon," Miller said.

Ripken probably wasn't completely inactive during his absence from the team. He has a batting cage at his home in Reisterstown and almost certainly spent some time swinging the bat during the past eight days.

Still, he could be forgiven for being a little rusty at the plate. He struck out looking in his first at-bat and bounced out to second his next time up before bouncing a single through the middle in his final at-bat in the seventh inning.

The entire spring has been a struggle. Ripken came into last night's game with a .187 batting average and no home runs in Grapefruit League action, a subpar performance that Miller attributes -- at least in part -- to his preoccupation with his father's health. The 38-year-old third baseman never displays much emotion, but he clearly seemed more subdued this spring than in previous seasons.

"No doubt, I fully expected it," Miller said. "He and I talked quite a bit last fall [after Ripken Sr.'s illness was diagnosed]. Unfortunately, I'm fairly experienced in the phases that you go through. You can be all prepared for it and it's still really tough."

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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