How would you feel if your father, who was cheering you on from the stands of your Little League game, was an eight-time Silver Slugger? Or a two-time MVP? Or played the most consecutive games ever?
“What my dad accomplished was great, but I’m just trying to make my own path. He’s him and I’m me, and I’m my own person,” said Auburn Doubledays first baseman Ryan Ripken.
Yes, Ryan Ripken. Cal’s son. Billy’s nephew. Ryan made it clear that he doesn’t rely on his last name for success. “Hours of training and a lot of hard work got me drafted and where I am today,” he continued.
I should probably give a little bit of history. If you don’t know who Cal Ripken Jr. is, I will explain. In 1982, the Cal craze began. He led rookies in almost every category then. He was the runaway AL Rookie of the Year. Then he was elected to 19 straight All-Star Games and played 2,632 consecutive games, breaking Yankees Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's 62-year-old record of 2,130 games. Cal Ripken Jr. was the player of the ’80s and ’90s.
“My dad was the opposite of the crazy screaming dad at our Little League games. He was always incognito. People noticed him, but he’d always try to find a way to be as unseen as possible. When I was growing up, my dad never pressured me to play baseball, but when it was clear that I loved baseball, he gave me some advice about the game,” said Ryan.
Cal even was an assistant coach for Gilman School in Baltimore, which is where Ryan went. “He was assistant coaching when we won the high school championship, so that was pretty special.
“I’ve gotten a lot of guidance from my family. Especially my mom, who helped me learn my way and helped me grow up. Same with my dad, and without either of them, I would not be where I am today. My family, my friends, my teachers, and all my coaches have been very supportive,” Ripken mused.
Although he grew up an O’s fan, Ripken has started to switch loyalties. “Being from Baltimore, I obviously have ties with the Orioles, but I’m extremely happy that the Nationals drafted me. They’ve always been interested in me, and the Nats have a great organization with great guys, so I couldn’t be happier with them,” he said.
After high school, he went to South Carolina for one year before transferring to Indian River State. After one year there, Ryan was off to the Gulf Coast League after being drafted in the 15th round by the Washington Nationals. He was there two years before moving up to the Hagerstown Suns. Now he is with the Auburn Doubledays.
I look up from my computer in the Doubledays press box to see Ryan Ripken racing to first for his second hit of the night. That’s when I realize that he’s definitely not just Cal Ripken Jr.’s son. He’s Ryan Ripken. He’s not here because of his last name. He’s not here because who his father is. He’s here because he can play.
Photographs by (from top): Aidan Kohn-Murphy; Mitchell Layton/Getty Images