NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. is taking his commitment to improving opportunities to play youth baseball and softball, especially in underserved areas, to the major leagues.
Commissioner Rob Manfred named Ripken his special adviser on youth programs and outreach. Manfred made the announcement Monday at the first winter meetings of his tenure as head of MLB.
''Cal has devoted much of his time since his great playing career finished to youth programs, developing youth programs, helping kids enjoy our game,'' Manfred said at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. ''Cal will be involved in all aspects of our policy development in the youth area.''
Manfred has made it a priority to attract more young people to the game while giving them more opportunities to play it in all different environments. He started the Play Ball initiative and consolidated all youth programs under senior vice president Tony Reagins.
Now Ripken has been added to the team.
The former Baltimore Orioles shortstop will join the MLB Youth Programs Advisory Committee. The group's mandate is to evaluate and improve the quality of existing programs and identify new programs that can grow the sport. He also will represent the league at public events.
''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,'' Ripken said. ''And I still think it's a little different than other sports. You don't have to be the biggest, strongest, and fastest. The skills involved in baseball doesn't discriminate on size, and it's wonderful to see a small kid step up and grab a bat and all of a sudden have great success.''
Since his retirement in 2001, Ripken has been heavily involved with youth baseball and softball, including building more than 50 youth development parks - multipurpose fields that give kids safe places to play. Ripken Baseball hosts tournaments across the country.
''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 it is very segmented. 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.''