As youth, `Calvin' positively driven

High School

Hall Of Fame

January 10, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

On the day that Cal Ripken Jr. earned his place among the giants of the game, his former coach at Aberdeen High School recalled a scrawny freshman who battled his way onto the varsity baseball team.

But Don Morrison also remembered a teenager - referred to as "Calvin" in those days - whose fierce competitiveness more than made up for his 5-foot-6, 128-pound stature.

"He had a great intangible inner drive," said Morrison, who now is a spokesman for the county school system. "He was so dedicated to the sport and so dedicated to getting better that he was never satisfied even with very good. Each step along the way, Calvin got better and better."

At the high school yesterday, students, staff and teachers - including a few who taught at the school when Ripken attended in the 1970s - reveled in the news that their famous alumnus was voted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Not long after the result of the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America was announced, members of Aberdeen's basketball and swim teams milled around the school lobby waiting for buses to take them to competitions.

"He is a great baseball player and we are proud of him," junior swimmer Kasey Sampson said within sight of the school's own Hall of Fame display, which features a portrait of Ripken. "He really is all over Aberdeen. It would be hard for any of us not to know who he is."

Freshman swimmer Alex Packard said baseball lost much of its luster for him when Ripken retired.

"He was it for me," Packard said. "He was the only player whose number I could always remember, even when I was a kid."

Principal Thomas Szerensits taught English during Ripken's time at the school.

"Cal was positive probably from the time he was born and he had a positive influence on everybody back then," Szerensits said.

Ripken graduated in 1978, a year during which the Eagles won the state baseball championship.

"He was the star player with a great influence, but he never acted like a star and he never developed an attitude," Szerensits said. "He just came and did his job."

Ripken led his Aberdeen teammates by example, not with bravado, Morrison said.

"He was first on the field and last off and was 100 percent in tune with the game," Morrison said.

Charles Mortus, the school's assistant athletic director, runs Ripken's summer baseball camps and is a longtime friend of the Ripken family.

"It is awesome to know somebody who is going into the Hall of Fame, and it's a unique honor for the whole community," Mortus said. "But Cal is a guy just like the rest of us and that's how he wants to be treated."

Harford County Executive David R. Craig also visited the school yesterday and though he saluted Aberdeen for launching a legend, he reminded everyone that Ripken was born in Craig's hometown.

"Aberdeen has Ripken now, but he was born in Havre de Grace," Craig said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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