A baseball legend is back in the big leagues.
On Monday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred named Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. the Special Advisor to the Commissioner on youth programs and outreach.
Ripken will be in charge of growing baseball and softball for youth players. Focus will be placed on providing kids in underserved areas across the country opportunities to play. And Ripken hopes to help plan new ways to excite kids about the sport he loves so much.
"I'm ecstatic to be in a role where I can help,” Ripken said. “I've always wanted to help develop the kids and let them see the joy that baseball can provide. It's a wonderful, wonderful sport.”
The announcement was the latest move in MLB’s campaign to bring kids back to the game.
When he officially became commissioner before the 2015 season, Manfred said getting kids interested in baseball was one of his top priorities. And over the course of the season, he proved it. The league created the Play Ball initiative earlier in the year, and it opened or announced the creation of new Urban Youth Academies in numerous MLB cities.
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to appoint Cal Ripken Jr., a legend of our game and an expert in the youth space, to this new role, which will help us further address our most significant goal,” Manfred said. “Cal is uniquely qualified to represent our game as we build more bridges to amateur baseball and softball organizations, and we plan to tap into his knowledge and experience extensively.”
There is no one better to teach kids how to love and play the game the right way than Cal Ripken Jr. As a player, he had a burning passion for baseball that kept him in the game every day. He played in a record breaking 2,632 consecutive games and was a constant, steady influence on the Orioles.
After he retired in 2001, he held It’s an attitude he’s held on to and shared with kids through youth baseball programs. Ripken Baseball runs clinics, teams, and tournaments across the country and at three Ripken Experience complexes in Maryland, South Carolina, and Tennessee. As a part of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation (named in honor of Ripken’s father), more than 50 youth development parks have been built to provide kids safe places to play.
But even with his undying dedication to baseball, Ripken knows it can’t a kid’s sole focus. When I spoke with Ripken earlier this year, I asked him how he felt about kids playing multiple sports. Growing up, he said that playing soccer and basketball gave him key skills he couldn’t get elsewhere. And he didn’t focus solely on baseball until he was a teenager
As MLB’s new special advisor, Ripken knows that baseball isn’t a top priority for kids anymore. But his task of getting kids excited about the game will include bringing in — not excluding — the benefits of football, basketball, and soccer.
“I would encourage all kids to try other sports,” Ripken told me. “I guess in some ways baseball is competing with all the other sports, but I would like to say that your athleticism can be developed by choosing different sports. When I did specialize in high school, I felt like I benefited from what I learned.”
Ripken has served as an ambassador for baseball both as a player and after he retired. Now, Major League Baseball is placing even more trust in Ripken. He will help the Commissioner devise strategies and initiatives designed to grow the sports of baseball and softball.
"We all care about the game. All of us that were lucky enough to play it for a living, we still want to give back to the game, but it seems like we’re all working kind of separately,” Ripken said. “The commissioner's office has brought formality to it, and we can all pool our resources together and really have a much bigger and better effect.”
Commissioner Manfred hit a home run in selecting Cal Ripken Jr. as the person to bring kids back to the game of baseball.
Photos: Mark Humphrey/AP (press conference), Julio Cortez/AP (kids)