Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was in town on behalf of Habitat for Humanity to help renovate a home in East Nashville. An advocate of grassroots baseball through Ripken Baseball and the Cal Ripken World Series, he discussed the state of the game and its current growth potential.
With all the talk of concussions in football, is there an opportunity for baseball to become a focus for more young athletes?
There’s been a lot of concussion talk in baseball, too. Justin Morneau was out for a long time. Brian Roberts is just trying to return from an extended [absence]. You get hit in the head in baseball, too. I think I got hit in the head seven or eight times in my career. I got plunked pretty good.
Other sports do take the athletes away and force you to specialize a little bit sooner. But explaining and teaching and giving kids greater experiences will only encourage them to continue to play baseball.
You’re always competing with other sports. I keep preaching how great baseball is. … People look at it as a slow-moving sport, but there’s a lot that goes on. If you make people aware of what goes on in the course of the game, they become more interested, and they like to play it a little better.
What is a good age for kids to start to specialize in one sport?
My recommendation would be don’t specialize too soon. … I would make the case that if you’re going to make it, you’re going to have to develop your athleticism as well.
Other sports challenge your athleticism a little differently. There’s a lot of explosive movements in basketball. In soccer there’s a lot of balance and a lot of conditioning … and you’re using your feet instead of your hands.
So there’s a lot of value in other sports, and I’d be really hesitant to play one sport too soon because there is that mental burnout. If you do something too much, it takes the love out of what you do. … My advice — always — is when the baseball season is over, put your glove and bat down for a minute, pick up a basketball or go try another sport.
You’ll know when it’s the right time for you to play one sport … and it’s not when you’re 10, 11 or 12.