THE RIPKENS never deserved the title of First Family of Baseball
more than in the summer of 1972, when Cal Sr. was the manager of
the Orioles' Class A affiliate in Asheville, N.C., and his kids
practically ran the joint. Cal Jr., 11, was the batboy; Fred,
10, the clubhouse attendant; Billy, 7, the ball boy; and
daughter Elly, 12, swept the bases after the fifth inning.
Everybody knows that 15 years later Cal Jr. and Billy both
played for their father in Baltimore, but whatever became of
that clubhouse attendant and the girl who swept the bases?
On a recent evening Fred Ripken sits in the living room of his
Havre de Grace, Md., home, watching an Oriole game on TV. It is
the first inning, and he thinks his brother Cal Jr. is at the
plate, but it's tough to tell because the game is on HTS, a
sports cable channel, and, Fred says, "I'm not paying to watch
baseball." So he stares at the scrambled picture and hopes the
play-by-play announcer offers some assistance.
"Ripken grounds out to Omar Vizquel," the announcer says.
"Dummy," says Fred, drawing deeply on his Marlboro Light.
September 14, 1995
Most summer nights, Fred, a motorcycle mechanic who works in a
repair shop in Bear, Del., listens to Oriole games in his garage
while he works on drag-racing cycles, including his own
400-pound, 350-hp machine. (His brother-in-law Terry Tompkins
Fred has followed Cal Jr.'s career intently, but he has been to
Camden Yards only once. Baseball was never really his game. A
Little League dropout at nine, Fred gave the sport another try
as a high school freshman. He lasted a week. "We had practice in
February," Fred says. "I was standing in the outfield freezing
and realized that I had better things to do. I never thought
about playing baseball again. It's just too tame a game for me.
I'm the wild one in the family. If the norm was to play
baseball, I was out riding dirt bikes. Cal got bit by the
baseball bug; I got bit by the motorcycle bug."
"If Fred ever needs a transfusion," his wife, Tina, says,
"they'll have to use motor oil."
But what of that summer of '72? No childhood memories of that
halcyon time? "Hmmm," Fred says, pausing for a moment, his blue
eyes growing wider. "When I was the clubhouse attendant, Cal
started to work for me," he says. "I was giving him 30 percent
of the profits, but he wanted to split it 60-40. I was greedy,
so I fired him."
Ellen Ripken laughs when she thinks back to that season in
Asheville and her routine of racing around the bases with her
little broom. "Sometimes I would smack umpires with my broom,"
she says, "and they would threaten to drag me out on the
pitcher's mound and give me a big ol' kiss."
Elly, who lives with her husband, Jerome Heathcott, in Bel Air,
Md., and works for a general contractor in Towson, is too busy
playing in her own games to go watch Cal Jr. She plays leftfield
on a softball team--"My claim to fame is that I had a higher
batting average than Calvin in high school," she says. "He
wasn't a power hitter then; he was a weakling"--and she carries
a 188 average while bowling in two leagues and subbing in
another. She took up golf in the past year, but Elly is
concerned that her once-level batting stroke is looking more
like her uppercut golf swing these days.
Just like Fred, Elly always has the Oriole broadcast on at home.
"I'm not a fan of baseball so much as I'm a fan of Calvin's and
Billy's," she says. "So, yes, the game is still very much a part
of my life--of all of our lives."