Happy Birthday Billy Ripken

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REPOST FROM AUG 2010:  A Night The Ripken Way. 

It was a night I will remember for a long time, two popular former Baltimore Orioles surrounded by a horde of confused Orioles fans. Yeh, it was weird because for a minute or two I thought, seriously everyone? You’re upset with what’s happening in Baltimore? What about the Pir….. but I would have never got a sentence out. It was the Billy Ripken show.  And O’s pitcher Bill ‘The Assassian’ Swaggerty was enjoying it with all of us.

One of the coolest parts of the night was listening to Billy Ripken talk about growing up in a baseball household.

Dad would allow us an opportunity to ask him if we could go to the ballpark with him. He never forced it. Cal would ask every time, he’s in the Hall of Fame. I went every other time, and well… I’m not.—-Billy Ripken

Billy Ripken has a humble slapstick that obviously has been perfected over the course of his life. Ripken is non-stop hilarity and never misses an opportunity. When a cell phone blurts out a quickly muted, “If You Like It Put A Ring On It,” Billy fired out this great one liner.

“If Cal was up here you would put your phone on vibrate, huh?”

His message was clear, the delivery seemed effortless as I couldn’t spot a notecard in sight. The incredible impact Billy and Cal Ripken, Jr. are having on the game of baseball was delivered in a way that was magical and powerful, detailed and incredibly funny. It’s just the Ripken Way.

[ Here is what my blackberry notes looked like after falling face first into my bed at 1:00am. I was able to clean up this morning for you.]

Keep It Simple.

A double play ends a game. It’s magical. But it’s simple. It’s a catch. Throw. Catch. Throw. Catch. But if there are any breakdowns there is no magic.

He discussed the philosphy his dad taught Baltimore minor league players religiously. It doesn’t matter that there are two outs and a runner on second base. See the ball (he pulled his fingers to his eyes–ala Lastings Milledge) Hit the ball.

Explain The Why.

A large part of the business that Cal and Billy do is baseball instruction. He mentioned that kids are inquisitive and it’s important to teach the why behind every message. We then teach we don’t tell.

Celebrate The Individual.

“Nobody had more stances than my brother. He won the MVP with two completely different stances.”—–Billy Ripken

Cal has a son Ryan who didn’t want to hit baseballs when he was eight years old. It hurt his hands. So Cal grabbed some catching gear and put it on and told Ryan, ‘Knock me off the stool! ‘

“Yeh, Junior ain’t that bright,” said Billy. But 45 minutes later Ryan was still hitting baseballs. He was hitting the ball up the middle. We all know how important that is. Ryan was having fun.”

Make It Fun

Kids want fun. We are trying to educate more and more baseball coaches in this regard. FUN. Baseball is a game where you’re standing 95 percent of the time. Is that fun? It’s interesting because kids are seeing all the action of lacrosse, hockey, basketball…. We have to capture an intensity.

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From my perspective standing against the wall, I got this as my takeaway: The more Billy Ripken spoke the more obvious it became to me that the underlying influence in his life seemed to Cal, Sr.

‘The Golden Boy’ as he referred to his older brother was there for him, but the wisdom of his Dad would lead the way. The lightbulb for me was this talking point.

Take care of yourself. Dad would always say that to us. Dad explained that you will see players that are bigger, better, faster. Just take care of yourself. It will all work out. It never came to me until I was in Texas. I was trying hard to make it. In the offseason I would look at rosters. I would say ok, I can be number 30 on that team. Ok, I can be 29th on that squad, 27th on that one. So, I got six weeks to make sure I get to 23rd best on that roster. I always wanted a little wiggle room.—Billy Ripken

Ripken told an interesting story about spring training when he had two utility players sitting on either side of him and another player that was battling to make the club was at the plate. Their teammate had struck out. Both of the players said, ‘yes!’ Billy looked at each of them puzzled and said, ‘what?’ The players replied ‘he punched out, he’s out.’ Billy was pissed and explained how he called the guys out about it.

But Ripken didn’t realize until later, that when he was batting those same players were probably rooting against him as well. “Yeh, Dad knew what he was talking about. I couldn’t worry about a player that acted like that.” Ripken explained how he just needed to make sure he got on-base when he was at the plate. Just take care of yourself.

“I had it the best…. I had the influence of my Dad. The advice of my brother. And I had the heart and the head.”—Billy Ripken

As Billy started to take questions for the next hour, one answer he gave really stood out for me.

So, Billy would you ever think of coming to Pittsburgh?

You really think I would ask that question? Well, of course you do. And I did, but privately. But no, that’s not the answer Ripken gave that stood out. (I doubt he would be interested in Pittsburgh—”I sleep in my bed 300 nights a year,” Ripken said.)

Didn’t you play with John Russell in Texas?

No, that’s not the question. Come on you think someone would ask that question? Ok, I did. (Ripken said, John Russell is a good baseball guy. But…)

The question that stood out was this one from a guy in an Orioles Under Armour shirt: Billy, who is your favorite baseball player?

“Cal is my favorite player of all time. Has been since I was 12.”—Billy Ripken

How cool is that, huh? Billy Ripken is a cool son of a mastermind.

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References and Notes:

Bill “The Assassian” Swagerty was the other Oriole discussed in the opening paragraph. Swags is the man who shook off Rick Dempsey as a rookie.

The Ripkens have some seriously cool programs going on to help children. The Cal, Sr. Foundation.

The Ripkens own a few teams too:

Aberdeen Ironbirds

Augusta Green Jackets

Charlotte Stone Crabs[Rays farm--Ripken spoke very highly of the Rays organization]

Got some email last night…here you go.

The Fleer card with Ripken holding his batting practice, overweight, Lousville Slugger F*** FACE bat, Ripken’s story is much better told on a real site than some hack like me. Here you go. Billy’s 616 Fleer is worth more than Junior’s 1989 card.

“I have no idea where that bat is today. If I were to guess, I would say it probably got lost after someone used it in a game. Probably a guy like Brady Anderson because he choked up so he could use a heavier bat.”

John Russell at Texas.

Best moment: July 11 1987.
3run HR inn KC. Cal is waiting for me at the plate. That’s a pretty good hi five. Eddie murray pretty good hi five, then my dad is great one. I coulda stopped my career right there just days into it…

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