BALTIMORE — Cal Ripken Jr. was never pushed to play baseball by his father. The Iron Man adopted that same philosophy when bringing up his own son.
Turns out that Ryan Ripken, like his dad, grew to love baseball. And, just like his father, he’s pretty darn good at the game.
Ryan Ripken has been selected to play in the 2011 Under Armour All-America Baseball Game, which will be held next month at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Over the first three years of the game, 88 of the 103 draft-eligible players who competed in the game were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft — including 18 first round picks.
Ryan batted .353 as a junior at Gilman High School and is already fielding scholarship offers from several college baseball coaches.
Sure, his father is proud. But if Ryan chose to drop baseball for basketball, or opted to abandon sports completely, his dad wouldn’t mind one bit if the run of Ripkens in the majors ends at two generations.
“I want him to be happy. If he derives the same sort of happiness that I did from baseball, he wants to pursue that and continue to play, then I’ll be happy for him,” Cal said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “But quite honestly, I want him to choose something that he’s happy in, and it doesn’t have to be baseball by any means.”
Cal Ripken Sr. was a coach and manager in the Baltimore Orioles organization for nearly four decades. Cal Jr. spent his entire 21-year career with the Orioles, played in a record 2,632 straight games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Cal Jr. loved hanging around the Orioles clubhouse as a kid and enjoyed playing the game. Ryan grew up under similar circumstances until his father retired in 2001.
Ryan stuck with baseball, but not because he was pressured by his notable dad.
“I let him gravitate to whatever he wanted to do. That’s what my dad did to me,” Cal said. “Certainly the exposure that you get being in professional baseball is exciting and different for the kids. Some kids really like it and some don’t. Ryan was 8 years old when I retired. He enjoyed being around the clubhouse and then he just started pursuing it.”
Ryan received plenty of instruction from Cal about the finer points of the game, but nothing could prepare him for what’s it’s like to have the last name of Ripken and playing baseball in Baltimore.
“There are some positives associated with that, but in many ways there’s a burden that comes with the last name,” Cal said. “I think a lot of people sort of expect a lot out of him. When kids are learning to play the game we make mistakes. We all grow from our failures. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like Ryan is afforded some of those failures. It’s almost like he feels the pressure, he f eels the scrutiny. And he’s done a remarkable job of handling it — because he has to.”
At 6-foot-6, Ryan is now taller than his father. He’s a standout on the basketball court, better than most of his peers and far superior to his dad.
“This is how he puts it: I can score on Dad when he’s trying really hard,” Ripken said. “It’s true. I don’t think I can keep up. He’s got too much range on his shot and he’s a good player. He’s also taken great pride in the fact he’s passed me in height.”
Ryan, who turned 18 on Monday, has focused on baseball this summer. Being selected to play in the All-America game is no small accomplishment.
“It’s a great honor to be named to this team with all of these terrific players,” Ryan said. “The game is prestigious, and the thought of playing at Wrigley Field and representing Baltimore and my teammates at Gilman is exciting.”
Described as “tall and lanky” by his father, Ryan doesn’t yet possess the power of Cal, who had 431 career homers. But he plays a solid first base and still has room to develop his swing.
“He’s got easy power with his bat. His home runs haven’t really caught up to his easy power, but I remind him that I hit zero home runs in my first pro season,” Cal said.
No matter. Regardless of what Ryan ends up doing, his father won’t be disappointed.
“It’s his life. He doesn’t have to do anything in baseball to make me proud. I’m proud of him already,” Cal said. “So it’s totally his choice. My dad’s philosophy was, It’s your life, you have to make choices in your life. And Ryan’s going to be given the full freedom to make the choice his.
“I know a lot of people find it hard to believe. They think that I would push, push, push, push. But I honestly, deep inside, it doesn’t matter to me.”