Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cal Ripken talks of streaks, Rays during Tampa baseball clinic
When it comes to durability in sports, Cal Ripken is the acknowledged authority.
But when Ronde Barber's name came up in conversation Wednesday, Ripken doffed his baseball cap to the recently retired defensive back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who set an NFL record for the position with 215 consecutive starts.
“In baseball, it's the grind, and there's no recovery from game to game,'' said Ripken, a Hall of Fame shortstop who shattered Lou Gerhig's record of 2,130 by playing in 2,632 consecutive games. “There are dangers inherent in the sport of baseball, but I would have to give the edge to football players.''
The two-time American League MVP was in Tampa to oversee a baseball clinic at Sulphur Springs Boys and Girls Club and partner with Transitions Optical, which provided free eye exams and eyeglasses for participating children.
Ripken, 52, credits part of his success for a 21-year career with the Orioles to his exceptional vision.
“I had great eyes,'' he said. “I might have had the best eyes in the league. I was always proud of my 20-10 eyesight and it was really fun for me to go to spring training and have my exam because the eye doctors would get so giddy.''
Ripken remains proud of his streak, which lasted 17 years and saw him persevere through a myriad of injuries, including a herniated disc and a hyper-extended elbow.
But one morning in 1993, Ripken woke up and saw a giant STOP sign.
“The worst was a sprained right knee I got from trying to break up a brawl against Seattle,'' he said. “I guess I thought I could stop the whole Mariners dugout from jumping into the pile and my knee got twisted. When I woke up the next day, I didn't think I could play.''
Like any good son, Ripken thought of his parents. When he called his mother to warn her his 1,790-game streak was in jeopardy, he promptly received a surprise visit.
“About 45 minutes later, my mom and dad are ringing my gate,'' Ripken said. “I knew it was exactly a 45-minute drive time from their house, so they must have jumped right in the car and come over.''
He played that night and when Ripken's right knee held up on an early throw from deep short, he knew his fears were unwarranted.
Two decades later, Ripken finds himself impressed with the Rays and manager Joe Maddon for their competitiveness while operating on a shoestring budget.
“I love the organizational model down here,'' he said. “It proves it's what you know, not your money. Yes, money's a great tool to have, but it doesn't replace knowledge. When Rays pitchers come to the big leagues, they're ready. Joe Maddon is a good people person and a good strategist who's willing to go to the extreme.''
Like ordering up penguins in the clubhouse?
“Stuff like that might get old, but this game is full of pressures and you really appreciate the efforts to reduce those pressures,'' Ripken said. “You can't play baseball when you're tight. …Joe is a master at figuring that out.''
Ripken's down-to-earth approach makes him an effective spokesman, Transitions Optical general manager Brian Hauser said.
“He is so approachable and totally at ease,'' Hauser said.
Ripken is upbeat about the sport he represented so well for so long.
“I never worried about the game – even with all the labor issues,'' he said. “Baseball is very resilient. It always comes back because it's a beautiful game.''