A future Baseball Hall of Famer isn't likely to live vicariously
through his kids, least of all Cal Ripken Jr., who has a
10-year-old, Ryan, and who has focused since his retirement on
remaking youth sports. In 1999 Ripken took over the Babe Ruth
League's five-to-12-year-old Bambino division (renamed Cal Ripken
Baseball) with the hope that changes he wants to introduce will
bring the game more in line with what kids want. "Youth
baseball has gotten way too serious, emphasizing winning at all
costs and not teaching the right lessons," he says. "With Babe
Ruth baseball's help, I'd like to reduce the pressure and put
more emphasis on teaching skills."
Ripken sees lessons for parents and coaches in how his late
father, Cal Sr., managed minor league prospects for 13 years in
the Baltimore Orioles' organization. "He would make notes during
a game, but teaching would take place afterward, when the moment
wasn't emotionally charged," Ripken says. "Too many times
somebody makes a mistake and a coach will say, 'Hey, you've got
to back up that play. Where were you?' [Adults] might tell a
10-year-old, 'Focus!'--but kids aren't there yet. They can't
'take a deep breath.' A 10-year-old who's singled out, he'll just
cringe. It zaps him from having fun."
When Ripken looks at his son, who plays soccer and basketball in
addition to baseball, he sees a typical 10-year-old: a kid with
some talent, a lot of desire, but a fragile confidence that an
aggressive 11- or 12-year-old could easily snuff out. Ryan is
passionate enough about sports that he'll brood after a loss.
That's when his dad tries to turn a pout into a positive. "You
have a gift," Cal will say. "You care. Manage it properly, and
you can apply that power inside you positively to your sport."
After Ryan's soccer team lost on a late goal and the players were
moping around, Cal simply picked up a ball and kicked it as high
as he could. Soon kids joined him, and parents, too. "Within
minutes of losing, without saying a word, this weird pickup game
had broken out, all because they wanted to have fun," Ripken
says. "If you're interacting with a kid, you have to think like a
October 5, 2003
He believes other youth sports should emulate the spirit of
lacrosse tournaments in which his daughter, Rachel, 13, plays
near their home in suburban Baltimore. "There's one [tournament]
that's a celebration of lacrosse," he says. "It's food, families
and having fun. It sends a message that's positive.
"From parents I'll hear, 'In our house we treat baseball the same
as homework,' or 'He's not really into it, but he'll thank me
someday'--but it has to come from the kid. Otherwise you're
taking the enjoyment and love out. You have to let kids be kids,
especially 10-year-olds. Let them learn themselves, and if they
build a base, they'll carry it with them their whole lives." --A.W.