Cal Ripken Jr. has made youth initiatives a priority during much of his post-baseball career since retiring from the Orioles in 2001.
From his clinics and instructional videos to the Cal Ripken World Series, the Hall of Famer has worked tirelessly to teach today’s youth about baseball in the proper way.
For Ripken – and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation – youth initiatives are about more than baseball; they are about teaching life lessons and making kids better people not just better players.
Ripken Foundation president Steve Salem said the problem in many cases is that youths in many disadvantaged areas have no place to play baseball, or sports in general. If there are fields available, Salem added, the facilities are in complete disarray and unplayable with fields covered in rocks, trash, broken glass among other waste.
“We just don’t want to expand the reach of baseball and sports,” Salem said. “We want to encompass life lessons into those teachings. That can only happen if there are fields available.”
This led the foundation to launch a $30 million fund-raising campaign to build youth athletic fields across the country. Salem said the foundation has raised about $22 million so far and completed 18 park projects through last year. The foundation reported that its parks served 20,721 kids in 2012 and they have a goal of completing 50 parks within the next five years.
“There is a basic need for kids to have fun,” Salem said. “It’s just unfortunate that in many areas, especially in urban settings, there’s just no place where kids can do that.”
Economics play a big factor in that problem, Salem said. As cities are stretching budgets just to stay afloat, finding money for park programs have become a problem, especially to develop a project like the foundation envisions, which can cost around $1 million.
“Because of the cost involved, we are careful about who we partner in these projects,” Salem said. “We don’t just want to build parks and walk away. We want to work with the communities to ensure they can sustain them.”
Jayne Miller, the superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said her organization could not have moved forward with its two projects in North Minneapolis without help from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
“We want to provide programs to improve the quality of life for youths, ages 5 to 18 in our community, and baseball and softball can help make that happen,” Miller said. “But, we could not have made this a reality without the assistance of the Ripken foundation and other similar donors. The money just isn’t there publicly. Now, kids that might have turned to drugs or gangs because they had no place to go have a positive place to turn to in their lives.”
Along with Minnesota, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has completed complexes in the following cities:
- Fredericksburg, Va.
- Richmond, Va.
- Bridgeport, Conn.
- Northampton County, Pa.
- Springfield, Mass.
- Charlotte, N.C.
- Naples, Fla.
- Queens, N.Y.
- Greenville, N.C.
Locally, the foundation has completed parks in Aberdeen, Park Heights, Patterson Park and at the site of old Memorial Stadium.
Among those cities in the process of building a park with assistance from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is Hartford, Conn. The parks in the city’s Clay-Arsenal neighborhood will feature an all-weather, low maintenance synthetic surface and will accommodate softball, baseball, football and soccer.
“This is an exciting and important project,” said Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra in a statement. “I’m especially pleased with how quickly everything has come together. I want to thank the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation for providing their expertise. City parks are sacred community spaces. This will be an opportunity for a community that truly deserves it.”
The foundation’s initiative also comes at a unique time in baseball’s history. As Major League Baseball celebrated the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, the league is also working to increase participation in the sport among African-Americans.
According to a recent study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, African-Americans make up just more than 8 percent of players at the major league level. This compared to 76 and 66 percent in the NBA and NFL, respectively.
Salem said if baseball participation grows as part of the parks initiative that would be great. But, he stressed, that is not the goal with this initiative.
“In so many cases, the youths we reach out to with this initiative have nothing but negativity in their lives,” Salem said. “Now, through the work of the foundation and others in the community, they now have something positive they can turn to.”