Baseball's ironman works to solidify game's foundation, help communities nationwide

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 10:40pm

Cal Ripken Jr. believes the best part of the Major League Baseball season is to come.

“We’re almost a third of the way through the season now,” he said. “I used to think that you could re-evaluate where you are in the season by the halfway point because then you’ve got a good 81 games in the course of the season, but you still have another half to go.

“Your true tests are going to come in the dog days of August and then in the second half of the season where your depth is going to matter.”

If the same is true of a person’s lifetime, the Hall of Fame shortstop continues to thrive in the second part of an existence that has been so closely identified with baseball.

Ripken was in Nashville on Thursday representing Energizer batteries and in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity as one among a group of volunteers who worked to restore a home just off Dickerson Pike. He climbed a ladder to help prime and paint the side of the home, and there was white paint on his feet and hands when he paused for a time to meet with members of the local media.

It was the latest such stop he’ll make on a tour of 13 cities, which already has taken him to Joplin, Mo., Miami and Phoenix.

“All things are good,” he said. “Sometimes you can write a check and give money and that’s all you can do. Sometimes you have time to benefit. Partnering with corporations like Energizer or partnering with Habitat, they have the expertise and they have the model that they can continue to make it work. There’s a lot of ways you can help.

“I think, as a baseball player, I was given a platform and a certain amount of fame that you can use and shine a light on different communities and different projects. This is what I’m doing here.”

Although far from dilapidated, the sport he played so tirelessly for 21 seasons is in need of a little help as well. Baseball has yet to fully recover from the stain of the steroid era, which came at a time when football’s popularity already had surpassed that of the so-called national pastime.

And as is the case in this current endeavor, he has shown he is willing to do the work that is necessary to bring new life to the game.

Through Ripken Baseball, he and his family operate minor league professional teams, conduct youth tournaments and camps and provide specialty training. He also lends his name to the Cal Ripken World Series, the national championship for 12-and-under teams in Babe Ruth Baseball.

“When you step out of the Big League game for a minute you can kind of look at the state of the game,” he said. “For the last 10 or 12 years, my touch-points have been minor league baseball … kids playing baseball, either in the travel team sense or teaching them.

“It seems like the game is very healthy. Kids’ enthusiasm for baseball — we’re trying to get more kids to play — but the kids who are playing certainly are playing more baseball.”

This also is his sixth year as a spokesperson for, and contributor to Energizer’s charitable efforts.

As his look on this day proved, he is willing to contribute much more than just his name to the cause.

“All you need to do is slop the paint on all the places that it needs to be slopped on,” he said. “So I can’t mess it up too bad.

“I have a good time, and I think the spirit of everyone here and the pride they have in helping the community is great.”

He didn’t even need to see how the rest of the day played out to reach that conclusion.