Cal Ripken Jr. Speaks with The Wall Street Journal

Cal Ripken, Wall St. Journal, Maroon PR‘Iron Man’ Cal Ripken Jr. Shows His Softer Side

The former Orioles baseball player speaks to the merits of an open kitchen and the strain of house-hunting

April 25, 2017 | Read online at WSJ.com

Cal Ripken Jr. , 56, played 21 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles and holds the record for most consecutive games played—2,632. Known as the “Iron Man,” he is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and today runs Ripken Baseball, which operates youth camps and tournaments in three cities. He spoke with Marc Myers.

Lately I’ve been thinking about moving, so I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at houses. When I played shortstop and third base all those years, I never had trouble with my knees. Now, climbing some of those stairs while house-hunting can go right to my kneecaps.

To stay in shape, I recently bought a mountain bike. I ride 15 to 20 miles a day on the open road. I love the freedom to go wherever I want and explore. I love that my helmet and sunglasses give me anonymity, which is rare for me in the area near my home.

I grew up in Aberdeen, Md., in a white split-level house with black shutters. Before the area was developed for houses, it had been farmland, so there were still plenty of fields around us. We had lots of space to play baseball.

My father, Cal Sr., was a professional baseball player who was employed by the Baltimore Orioles his entire career. From 1957 to 1964, he played in their minor-league system. Then he was a manager, reaching the majors in 1976 when he coached for the Orioles. In 1985, he became the team’s manager.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and early ’70s, baseball took my dad away from us a lot. In the summer, when my brother Fred and older sister, Ellen, and I were out of school, we joined him with my mom and our little brother Billy.

During the season, my dad was at the ballpark every single night, so we’d have our big meal in the middle of the day. When I was little, he’d ask me to carry his briefcase to the car or let me struggle with his suitcase.

Then he’d say to me, “Take care of the family while I’m gone.” I knew early that it was important to do all the things he asked and to be responsible.

I remember the moment I wanted to be a ballplayer. It was in 1972, when I was 11. My dad was managing the Asheville Orioles in North Carolina, a Double-A minor-league team. At that age, I was old enough to go to the ballpark with him. I was a batboy.

At some point, the umpire behind home plate asked for five new balls, so I ran out with two in one hand and three in the other. When I returned to the dugout bench and sat down, I looked out on the field and realized that playing baseball was what I wanted to do.

At home, my dad was a drill sergeant with compassion. He was a doer, so I had to be doing things all the time. I had specific chores or I had to help him around the house. If they were new things, he’d teach me how to do them.

He had particular ways he wanted things done. For example, our property was hilly, but the lawn’s lines when mowing still had to be straight. He stressed that keeping the lawn looking crisp was important.

He also wanted the driveway hedged. We didn’t have an electric edger, so I had to use a string and sharpened hatchet to chop back the grass and create a razor-sharp line along the driveway.

Dad was a teacher in the minor leagues and a teacher at home. After I’d finish a task, he’d come and survey the work. If he wasn’t pleased, he’d explain what he wanted done. If he was happy, he’d say, “Look how good that looks.”

I soon started to take personal pride in everything I did. Which meant the results often exceeded the job I did previously. Dad always stressed the pursuit of perfection, a lesson I never forgot.

My mother, Violet, was the disciplinarian. She had four kids who were close in age, and she was often alone with us. As a result, she had to keep our minds busy. She did things like put us in bowling leagues or taught us to play cards.

I started playing baseball in high school. When I was a junior, my father saw me play and said, “Cal, you have a chance to play pro ball.” It still gives me chills thinking about that line. It motivated me to work hard.

By the end of my senior year, I was 6-foot-2. Then from 18 to 21, I grew another 2 inches. After high school, I was drafted by the Orioles and played on one of their minor-league teams.

I had been a strong player in high school, but now I was scared. Other players were stronger, and I made a ton of errors at shortstop during my first season.

In ’79, I moved to the Miami Orioles, a Class-A team. But my problem with errors at shortstop started all over again. Lance Nichols, the manager, moved me to third base, and from then on everything clicked. I began playing for the Baltimore Orioles in 1981.

Today, I live in Annapolis, Md. I’m staying in a beautiful four-bedroom house on the water as I look for a home to buy. Out back, I have a panoramic view of the Spa Creek inlet and the city’s historic district.

I like the open kitchen. It has an 11-foot island, and I love to cook. That started when I went away to play pro ball. My mom worried I wouldn’t eat right. So she wrote out the recipes for my six favorite meals and gave them to me in a binder. The recipes served six or eight so I’d have plenty of leftovers.

When I’m in meetings at my office nearby, I often find myself distracted by the landscapers outside. If they’re working, they’ll catch my eye and I’ll think of ways they can do the job more efficiently. I suppose that’s my dad whispering in my ear. He died in 1999. I still miss him.

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