Chip off teaching block

Bill Ripken: Showing striking similarities to his late father, the ex-Oriole stresses the basics to keep the family's 17-year camp a learning hit with kids.

July 06, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG -- Circumstances have brought former Orioles second baseman Bill Ripken to Mount St. Mary's College. The end of his playing career, the passing of his father, the name. It's as if he has no choice.

Who else has the wisdom to continue the teachings of Cal Ripken Sr., who ran a baseball camp here for the past 16 years? Who else has the time?

The latter element isn't available to his more famous brother, who yesterday was voted into his 17th All-Star Game. Not yet, anyway. No, this camp and the Cal Sr. legacy are in the hands of someone who earned a reputation as one of the major leagues' most dependable fielders. And he's not about to bobble his latest chance.

On an overcast morning, with a slight breeze offering relief from the heat, Ripken's feet and mouth never stop moving. He's at first base, pointing emphatically at the bag while a group of attentive youngsters soak in his every word. With his white shirt untucked and his cap often held in one hand, he moves to third for another drill, then to second to monitor the pivots on imaginary double plays.

Mistakes are corrected, proper fundamentals praised in exaggerated fashion. High-fives are dispensed in generous proportions.

"Yes! Oh my goodness, did you see what you just did?" he asks a boy who handles a tricky hop.

"Nicely done."

"Hey, that's beautiful."

"Yeah! You're out of control, big fella."

"It doesn't get any better than this."

It doesn't let up until the campers break for lunch at noon. Though Cal Sr., who died of cancer in March, may not have been this animated, the similarities between father and his 34-year-old son can be striking.

"Bill speaks the language of the younger generation, but he says the same things as his dad," says Tom Sherald, who has been involved in the camp since its inception. "Cal was big on cliches as a way of getting across his philosophies. Some of that comes out of Bill, and he's probably not even aware of it."

"Like his daddy, he knows what's going on at all times," says Paul McNeal, part of the 36-member staff, who was a coach at Single-A Hagerstown when Ripken played there.

"He doesn't miss a thing. He and his dad are identical in that way. He's a great instructor. He knows the game inside and out. This camp is in good hands.

"When the Orioles lost Mr. Ripken, they lost one of the best baseball minds in the country. Bill's got just about all his traits. He's a chip off the old block."

That includes not deviating from the drills that his father implemented. The campers, who numbered around 190 last week and 130 this week, are shown the nuances of playing the infield and outfield. They hit off a pitching machine and tee, always within view of a handful of instructors. They're taught how to slide and run the bases. And games are frequently halted for additional on-site instruction.

"I've got my beliefs and thoughts, but I'm not going to throw them all out there," says Ripken, whose mother, Vi, stopped by to watch part of a session last week. "I'm kind of an overseer. If I see something that's off, I'm pretty sure Senior would have thought it was off, too.

"I'm not trying to clone anything out here. I'm just giving them a basic structure to work with. It's pretty gratifying when you tell a kid something and watch him apply it and get results, and see his reaction."

As Ripken reviews the various stations in his camp, he frequently uses the word "our" in reference to his father. It's a shared experience. Always will be, too.

"When he told you something, he usually told you more than once and it sunk in. I don't think anyone I've encountered knew the game more from A to Z than him," says Ripken, who played for four teams, including his father's Orioles, in his 11-year major-league career. "He could help an awful lot of people."

Now, it's Bill's turn.

"This has always been known as the Cal Ripken Baseball School," he says, "and since I've got the last name, I should be involved. I was raised and taught by him, and I think I have a grasp of everything he believed in."

Ripken already has broadened the camp's reach by conducting one in Hawaii last winter. Cal Jr. was there, along with Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo and major-leaguers like Eric Davis and Hideo Nomo. And he's got others scheduled next month in Oakland, Calif., and Tampa, Fla.

"Is this something we see going on? Yeah," Ripken says, assuring a visitor that he's in this for the long haul.

Says Sherald: "I think he's looking to make a career out of teaching baseball the Ripken way."

Ripken is doing more than moving into another phase of his professional life. His father's death has forced him to do the same on a personal level, with a privacy that often eluded Cal Jr. this spring.

"Junior was in a difficult situation when it came to the grieving process," Ripken says. "He was reminded daily of the loss. It was constant. Baseball is a hard enough game to play without standing at third base and having someone pat you on the back and say they're sorry. They mean well, but it's tough.

"I wasn't around at the end of spring training and the beginning of the season, so I had a better chance to remember Pops when I wanted to remember. I could step back and get away from it and remember things on my own terms and my own time."

The reminders come more frequently these days as another kid in baseball gear is left with an imprint that could be applied only by a Ripken.

"I was told by one of the instructors the other day that I sounded just like my dad," Ripken says.

"I said, `I sure hope so.' "

Tomorrow: Fred Ripken coaches his daughter, Austyn, and other all-star softball players.

Pub Date: 7/06/99

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