Ripken's diamond vision about to bear fruit

$25.7M Aberdeen plan for minor, youth ball

January 27, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

A modest, $75,000 grant from the Major League Baseball Players Association has evolved into a project by Cal Ripken Jr. that will cost $25.7 million and bring both minor-league and youth baseball to his hometown.

"I could envision some fields with a sign up with that initial money," Ripken said yesterday at a press conference at the statehouse. "So, I took that idea and expanded on the concept. Then I was looking for a site for the academy and the element of a minor-league team in the area came into the mix.

"We all started to merge all our interests into one project and the result is a one-of-a-kind sports complex."

Located on a 50-acre site off Route 22 and west of I-95 near Aberdeen, the facility will be home to a 6,000-seat, state-of-the-art Ripken Stadium that will be the home park of the expansion Aberdeen franchise in the Atlantic League. The team will begin play this summer (probably at Harford Community College for one season).

On the other side of the parking areas will be six youth diamonds that will be constructed as mini-versions of such major-league parks as Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

There, 24 youth teams and their families will participate in programs in which the "Ripken Way" of baseball and sportsmanship will be emphasized at the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy.

The complex, which also will include dormitories, a mess hall and recreation areas, will host the annual Babe Ruth League Cal Ripken Division World Series beginning in 2001.

Babe Ruth League Baseball, which involves more than a million players from ages 5 through 18 nationwide, is also considering a move of its national offices from Trenton, N.J., to the site.

"I'm especially interested in the teaching aspect," said Ripken. "My dad took great pride in seeing a light bulb go off in a kid, and [brother] Bill picked that up, too. We want to plant the seed for these kids and have the opportunity to make baseball fun for them, the way it was for me when I was growing up."

With a $9 million Ripken contribution toward the project, he will be a part-owner with Maryland Baseball Limited in the yet-unnamed Aberdeen franchise. Bill Ripken will be the director of baseball operations for the team.

Maryland Baseball has provided $2 million, while the city of Aberdeen and Harford County have jointly pitched in $7 million. The final $7 million will come from the state, an allocation to be spread over the next three years. The state has already invested $700,000 in the project.

"We believe this is a very good use of our public resources. The Ripkens put Aberdeen on baseball's map, and now the Ripken stadium, youth academy and the Babe Ruth League will highlight Aberdeen as one of the premier destinations in the country to enjoy our national pastime," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

It's estimated that the complex will generate $26.5 million in economic activity annually for the area.

Ripken can envision even more expansion of the complex in the future because of additional land available on the site. He also found "most appealing" Babe Ruth League Baseball's plan to expand into foreign countries.

"Major league players take great pride in giving back to their communities," said Don Fehr, executive director-general counsel for the players association.

"The spirit of giving back is not better exemplified than by Cal Ripken."

"We've had experiences in three great communities [Frederick, Bowie and Salisbury]," said Maryland Baseball chief executive officer Peter Kirk. "But we've never been more excited than by this partnership with Cal, Billy, the city and state."

Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article

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