SARASOTA, Fla. – Cal Ripken ran to the mound, threw a strike to J.J. Hardy, and started his work day.
Ripken is in the business of being Cal Ripken, and he was at the Orioles training facility for the first time on Thursday.
When Ripken played for the Orioles, they trained mostly in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but spent part of one spring training here.
Trainer Richie Bancells gave him a tour of the training room and Ripken laughed as he remembered the years in Fort Lauderdale when the team’s weight room was in a tent.
Ripken was signing copies of his new book, “Wild Pitch,” co-authored with Kevin Cowherd. It’s the third of a series of six children’s books, and judging by the reception he received, Ripken is as popular as when he played.
Hundreds of books were brought in anticipation of the signing, and they were all sold before the inscribing began.
After he threw out the first pitch, Ripken swiftly moved down the first base line, signing autographs as he went. He went upstairs to appear on the Orioles television broadcast, bantered with Jim Hunter and Jim Palmer, and sat down to talk about today’s Orioles.
“To me, what I like is they have a lot of depth in their starting staff, a lot of choices. And choices are sometimes hard to make, but last year, the starting staff of the Orioles looked one way in the first half, and in the second half, it looked a little different. [Chris] Tillman threw well and [Miguel] Gonzalez threw well,” Ripken said.
“Coming into this year, you have more choices and more opportunities, and that makes me feel good because you never know what's going to happen. You can't have too much depth in your starting staff, and they look like a confident ball club. They proved that they could execute and play well.”
Ripken followed the team more closely last year because he was present at the ballpark for five of the six statue unveilings and he called Orioles playoff games on TBS.
"The bullpen was the best in all of baseball last year. You'd be a little bit foolish to think you could duplicate all the one-run success that they had, but I would imagine they're still going to be a good one-run team, and that makes a difference in making the playoffs or not. I'm extremely excited," Ripken said.
Spending more time around the Orioles has not gotten him more interested in a full-time job in baseball, or with the team.
“It’s always flattering to be thought of in the way that I’ve been thought of, I’ll put it that way. And there’s a side of me that wants to be challenged in a big league way. What that is I’m not sure,” Ripken said.
“I did make a choice when I got away from baseball to be there to get my kids off to college, that was my mindset. And now that they are off to college, could be a time in your life where you think about those things coming up. [I] don’t know yet.”
Ripken hasn’t worked for the Orioles since he retired in 2001. He hasn’t come down to spring training as his former teammates Al Bumbry and B.J. Surhoff have done.
I’d have to change my schedule quite drastically in order to acomodate that,” Ripken says.
“I’d have to get a little bit bigger uniform these days.”
Brady Anderson, one of his closest friends, is now a top executive with the team.
“Talking to Brady and seeing how engaged he is, Brady was always one of the smarter guys around, and he is very passionate about all aspects of the game. To see him talking and being on the inside, I’m a little jealous at times,” Ripken said.
“But I have kept myself pretty busy and I’m not quite ready to give up what I’ve been doing or my availability,” said Ripken.
“But certainly my conversations with Brady time to time, feels like you are on the inside and in the know a little bit more than you have been in the past. Is he recruiting me? No, I don’t think so. At least he hasn’t shown his hand yet if he was.”
Ripken has bonded with manager Buck Showalter.
“He has this passion for the game. He's a true thinker. Old school and a little new school all at the same time. I always thought he was a fantastic baseball guy, had success wherever he went,” Ripken said.
“He seems to be evolving and becoming a better leader overall. It almost seems like the team looks at him a little bit more in a fatherly sort of way, which is cool."