It's crunch time for Ripken
Ironman to dwell more on future than his past in speech
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is normally viewed as the culmination of a player's experience. The event brings the inductee's baseball career to a most honored close.
Yet, Cal Ripken Jr. does not intend to dwell exclusively on the past in his address on Sunday at the Clark Sports Center for what is expected to be the largest crowd assembled at an induction ceremony for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The event, which the Hall is fervently hoping does not get attacked by severe thunderstorms, will be streamed live at BaseballHall.org and BaseballChannel.TV. Viewers and listeners can expect from Ripken a speech that will deal as much with what lays ahead than what has already occurred.
"I thought long and hard about what message I'd like to deliver, and it's about the future of baseball," Ripken said on the eve of the special moment that he will share with fellow inductee Tony Gwynn. "This is about not an ending but a beginning, and the beginning is with kids and the future of the sport."
Ripken will reach into his personal past to make frequent mention of his father, Cal Sr., the baseball lifer who instilled in his son the work ethic that resulted in the most durable career in history (2,632 consecutive games) and taught him the value of having the game get into his bloodstream at an early age.
"Dad always had the magic," Ripken said. "When dad was a Minor League manager, he was responsible for Minor League players and looked at them like they were all his sons and devoted tons of time to deliver the same message that he did to big-league guys down to the grass roots. That sort of legacy, when someone learns something and builds off those things that they hold on to those for life, is very powerful.
"We're a baseball family. We grew up in the game. Dad didn't make us become Major League players. A lot of people think he did. He just showed us the joy baseball brought him.
"I think [my brother] Billy and I wanted to find out about that secret and that joy. Having some family moments within a big-league sport was important. Looking back at my career, there were many great moments, but they were even greater because I could share so many of them with my dad and my brother. When you think about those loved ones, it's going to bring some emotions to the surface."
Ripken called on his former agent and longtime friend, Ron Shapiro, to help him shape the speech. His main concern is the same as most of those who proceeded him -- to get through it without breaking down.
"When you're trained to hit a baseball and field, you get comfortable in your environment," Ripken said. "I've been on the speaker circuit for a while delivering a message. I've gotten a little more comfortable being behind the mic, but there's no way in the world that I can be as comfortable behind the microphone as being on the field or being in the clubhouse or being in that big moment with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
"The only worry I have is coming to the part where you thank the people that are closest to you. It's going to be pretty emotional. I'm hopeful that in the live moments, I'll be able to deliver that OK."
Ripken has tried not to let the speech overwhelm him as he tries to savor as much from his experience as possible, such as a special slice of time with a Hall of Famer on Saturday.
"I was sitting signing bats with Al Kaline, and I thought what a great moment this is -- just to see his disposition, his calming way, all those things," Ripken said. "I already knew those things, but I thought it was pretty cool just to have that sort of private conversation with him through a task like signing bats."
Earlier on Saturday, Ripken threw out the first pitch at Doubleday Field, where his IronBirds Minor League club played, "and there was an energy within that stadium that was wonderful to see. I don't know how many people the last six months told me they were coming here for the induction, and going down the street here and actually seeing some of those people has been overwhelming."
Nevertheless, some of the side effects have been exhausting.
"It has been a nerve-racking time," Ripken said. "It's a wonderful time, a happy turmoil, a celebration of baseball with all the Hall of Famers around. But I guess there's a little anxiety. I also feel a sense of fatigue. I think I'll sleep for three weeks when this is all over."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.