Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. turns 50 on Aug. 23, 2010. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
It's hard to believe, but the fresh-faced kid who burst into the Orioles lineup in 1982, caught the final out of the World Series in 1983 and broke Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable consecutive games record in 1995 has reached the half-century mark. Cal Ripken Jr. turns 50 on Tuesday, so we thought it was a perfect time to sit down with him and talk about his great career, his reaction to the Big 5-0 and his plans for the future. This is the first in an occasional series of one-on-one interviews conducted by Peter Schmuck with some of Maryland's most talked-about sports figures.
Schmuck: Fifty years old. Is that a scary thought?
Ripken: I'm still acting like a child. No, and I don't know why yet. Normally, some people think about 50 as a big moment in life. I kind of think 30 because in your baseball career, 30 was considered on top kind of looking at the end of your career. So I remember thinking about 30 in different ways, but 50 just seems like another step right now.
Schmuck: Now I would have thought as a baseball player it would be 40 because 40 is, though you went a little bit beyond it, 40 seems like the most obvious age barrier for a baseball player.
Ripken: Yeah, but what people tell me about 50 is they look at it in reference to their whole life, and 50 kind of might be the halfway point. Up until 50 you're not thinking about the end of your life, and then at 50 you're starting to think about the downhill side. I don't know if that's true or not because I haven't felt it personally, but if I look at it in my baseball thing, I remember thinking much more at 30 the unknown about how much more you are going to play. You've been playing for a while, and it seems like you look at everybody else's history. As you said, Brooks Robinson played a long time, and I'm thinking, "OK, this is probably the halfway point," and you start to have doubts about the end of it. You didn't know when it was going to end. Forty, to me that was kind of easy because you're glad to be playing baseball when you're 40 and you know it's at the end, so there weren't any surprises. Maybe you get started later in life, in business later on in life, so my 50 might be someone else's 40 or someone else's 30. I'm not sure.
Schmuck: You know you're 50 when you go from being interviewed by ESPN to being interviewed by AARP.
Ripken: (Laughs.) I don't know what to say about that. Yes, I guess. I think I've been interviewed by AARP and actually spoke to the group when I was younger.
Schmuck: Fifteen years ago — two weeks down the road — 15 years ago, you broke Lou Gehrig's record. Does it amaze you that it was 15 years ago?
Ripken: I think that since I retired it's been the fastest 10 years, I think. In baseball, there were moments where it went really fast, normally when you were playing well and you were winning, and those seasons went by really quickly. The longer seasons were when you were losing and you're trying to figure out how to get to the end. When you look back on the streak, in many ways it seems like it was yesterday. It's still fresh in your mind. It's there. But then the realization really hits you when you see the images of your kids and you see a glimpse of that night on TV and you realize how small your kids were and how grown up they are now, and that's the reality that hits you that it is 15 years. In many ways, it doesn't seem like that. It seems like yesterday.
Schmuck: If you ask your fans, "What is Cal Ripken's greatest accomplishment?" they all would automatically go to that moment, and maybe you would have that day, but do you have a different perspective at 50 years old? What do you think is your greatest accomplishment of your first 50 years?
Ripken: Throwing baseball aside for a minute, I think the thing that gives you the most satisfaction and joy is to bring kids into the world and help them to prepare for their life. That, ultimately, is the most fulfilling thing. There's no road map for it. There's no book that says this is how to do it. You're operating off your morals and principles and your values, and you're managing and helping every step of the way, and it's hard. So, that gives me the … You know, even athletically when Ryan does a few things athletically or Rachel skiing when she does things, it almost seems like it's way more satisfying when they do it than if I did it. It's 10 times the feeling of satisfaction when they have success in doing something. Don't know why, but it's true. In baseball, the easy moment is the unique moment of 2,131 15 years ago turned out to be a wonderful human moment. There was a lot of interaction between many different parties, and that included my own family, my dad, the other team, the fans…
Schmuck: … and Joe DiMaggio. He wept.