Former Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. is not just a Hall of Fame baseball player.
Major League Baseball’s “Iron Man” is a Hall of Fame human being.
He was the featured guest at Wednesday’s grand opening of the Independence Ability Field at McCoy Park, which offers youngsters with special needs the chance to play baseball without any obstacles.
His Cal Ripken Sr., Foundation, which is named after his late father who died after a long bout with lung cancer in 1999, supplied much of the funding for the field.
The 21st and 22nd fields funded by the foundation are the one at McCoy Park and another in Overland Park, Kan.
“Our goal was to have 50 fields by 2016,” Ripken said, grinning. “I think that number is going to be closer to 75.”
Ripken was a no-nonsense, blue-collar third baseman and shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles who topped 3,000 hits and set baseball’s all-time consecutive games played mark, surpassing the reign of legendary New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig.
While he is long retired from the game he dominated, Ripken still is making an impact on the playing field – especially a playing field designed for special needs children.
“When I was growing up, my dad was managing in the minors, and my second home was the park where he was managing,” Ripken explained. “I never understood why, on weekends, he would go out and conduct clinics instead of staying home and playing ball with me and my younger brother Billy.
“Now, I understand. He wasn’t just teaching the kids at the clinics life lessons; he was teaching me and Billy life lessons, too. Thankfully, today I have a bit of a platform and now I can create a legacy for my dad by working with great groups on projects like the Ability Field here in Independence.
“We never started the foundation to build baseball parks. It just happened, because there was a need. And being here today, you can see how special this is for the kids and their families.”
Quinten Stoops is a 13-year-old who loves baseball with a passion. On Wednesday, he got to play the game he loves despite the fact that he is wheelchair-bound because of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
“This is amazing,” said Quinten’s father Anthony, as Quinten awaited his first at-bat. “It was a long time coming. I’m just so happy it came when Quinten could play on the field. I’ve never seen him this excited.”
That statement could describe each of the 1,500 fans, parents, players and dignitaries who attended the event.
When he wasn’t visiting with the players, posing for photos or graciously answering question after question from a larger than usual group of electronic and print media, Ripken was mingling with the fans – signing baseballs, photos, ball cards and anything else that came his way.
He didn’t need to do that. But when Cal Ripken Jr., is involved with a project, he is involved all the way. His presence made the event unforgettable.
As one mom said as he handed her back a signed baseball, “Thanks for making my son’s dreams come true today.”
A Hall of Famer, a baseball legend, a humanitarian and a dreammaker.
I have a feeling that somewhere, Cal Ripken Sr., is looking down at his son’s good deeds with a satisfied grin on his face. Cal Sr., they don’t get much better than your son.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC