Chatting with the Iron Man
You can't get much more Baltimore than Cal Ripken, so in launching this here blog, it only made sense for us to pull some words of wisdom from the Iron Man. Ripken has spent much of his post-playing career devising ways to pass the lessons he learned from his father on to the next generation of would-be baseball stars. In his latest venture, a joint project with MLB.com, he will sell online lessons in which he splices instructional video, diagrams and major league highlights. In promoting GetGreat.com, Ripken fielded a few questions from the Toy Department.
TD: Is this your first deep foray into Web instruction?
Cal: We always felt that we had great content, but this opportunity with MLB.com gave us the perfect place to put all that stuff. We always used the expression with my dad that he was the encyclopedia of baseball. Well now, we feel like this can be a living, evolving encyclopedia of baseball. We can take real, live big league footage, put a voice over it, put diagrams in it. We can cement those teachings that I had passed on to me.
TD: Are you a frequent Web surfer?
Cal: I've learned to use certain tools when I want to learn something. I use it in a boring sort of way, looking for training aids, field design stuff, overhead shots of various minor league parks. It used to be you would have to make a site visit for a lot of that stuff. Now, you can find it pretty readily at the tips of your fingers. I also have it set so that MLB comes up first. It's great for watching footage so I can do some scouting and get familiar for the work I do at TBS. I can't get by without a computer anymore.
TD: When did you become a serious computer user?
Cal: About halfway through my career, I bought a laptop. I designed some databases to keep my own information on pitchers and I would use it on team flights and stuff.
TD: Of course, the issue on all of our minds right now is the economy. How does the economy impact Cal Ripken?
Cal: You have to start examining all aspects of your business and when you see things going the wrong way, you have to be super tight. The first step is looking for early indicators on the [minor league] season. I can tell you that so far, we're getting hit a little bit on sponsorships. But as far as campers and people renewing their tickets, things haven't changed much. It's affordable family entertainment, so maybe that's the last thing to go when people are figuring out their budgets.
TD: Were you as fascinated by last year's presidential election as much of America?
Cal: As you get older, I think you naturally look around you more. But I've always thought I had to be very careful if I ever wanted to use my platform to get involved with politics. I've never been comfortable taking that step.
TD: But did you enjoy following it, just as a story?
Cal: Generally speaking, as you get older, issues do become more important. I was laughing with Kelly the other day about how our parents used to sit and read the paper every day. And you just have no interest in that as a young person, but as you get older, those habits do set in.
TD: Did you take it as a positive sign for the Orioles' future that Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts signed long-term extensions in the offseason?
Cal: Well, I say this without having talked to Andy [MacPhail] about it, but it certainly seems their plan is to fully rebuild where, at times in the past, they maybe tried to half rebuild and half compete. I think with the trades of [Erik] Bedard and [Miguel] Tejada, they got 10 quality prospects, and those guys are starting to get aligned. With Brian Roberts, you have a mainstay, a player you can market around and a guy who still has a lot left in the tank. Markakis is a potential superstar guy. It was good to see him find that kind of stability. Those are anchors you can build around so I applaud both of those moves.
TD: Which players do you most enjoy watching now?
Cal: I always like to watch guys at the shortstop position, to see the evolution of what's happening there. I got a chance to watch a lot more of the National League with TBS and Jose Reyes is certainly a sensational player. David Wright, it's hard not to be impressed with him. B.J. Upton, with his athletic way of playing the outfield, is fun to watch. He almost made me think of Paul Blair. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. I'm enamored with those guys. They remind me of a [Lou] Whitaker-[Alan] Trammell situation, where they've had the chance to get better together.
TD: I know it's a tired issue, but I have to ask your reaction to A-Rod's announcement that he used steroids?
Cal: I was shocked and surprised. I was glued to the TV, to try to watch and know what was going on with him. There's sadness involved because I've known him well. You think about the choice and wonder what it is that would cause Alex ... you could see that kind of talent with him so early on, so why would he make that choice? It's not good for the cloud hanging over baseball.
TD: Did it hit you harder because Alex has often talked about you as a model for his game?
Cal: I have a personal relationship with him, because I've known him since he was 16. You take pride in his success and marvel at his talent. I didn't want to think that about Alex. It makes you think that the problem was far bigger than what we thought. But at the same time, I think Derek Jeter is right. It wasn't everyone.