Cal Ripken is doing a Zoom call with reporters when he disappears from the screen, leaving an empty chair swiveling in his wake.
There’s no cause for alarm: Ripken was just briefly ranging to his left, same as he used to do at shortstop, to scoop something up. When he reemerges, there’s not a baseball in his hand, but one of those gold shovels you might see a politician or celebrity holding at a groundbreaking ceremony.
“I just happened to have one of these laying around,” Ripken says with a laugh, and for close followers of the Ironman’s career, it’s not exactly a surprise.
Since retiring in 2001, Ripken has carried on his baseball legacy in part by building dozens of state-of-the-art youth sports facilities nationwide via the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a charity that he and his brother, Billy, created to honor their patriarch, the former Orioles manager.
There are 12 diamonds in the Baltimore area alone, like the Camden Yards replica (“Cal Sr.’s Yard”) off I-95 in Aberdeen, the Brooks Robinson Field at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore, and the Eddie Murray Field on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, the foundation’s first, built in 2010. Since then, Cal Jr. has put the family name on an astonishing 99 parks in 28 states. And on Zoom last month, the virtual “groundbreaking” marked the announcement of the 100th park to be built under the Ripken umbrella.
Construction on a $2.25-million, 83,000-square-foot waterfront field complex at Reedbird Park in Cherry Hill is expected to start by the end of the year. The plan calls for it to ultimately lay adjacent to the city’s new, sprawling Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center, scheduled to open in 2022, which will be home to indoor and outdoor sports, plus three pools and multiple fitness rooms. The field will be named “BGE Field presented by Kelly,” a reflection of how the Ripken Foundation does its work—by gathering donations from a variety of friends and sponsors, like former Maryland senator Frank Kelly, who is also on the foundation’s board.
In this case, the field is the first part of the non-profit South Baltimore Gateway Partnership’s plan to redevelop 11 miles of waterfront on the Patapsco River, from Port Covington to Brooklyn, using money generated by the Horseshoe Casino and other state gaming revenue. Gateway, which manages a chunk of the Horseshoe’s local impact grants, is co-funding the project, while Baltimore City Recreation and Parks will administer the facilities.
“We can’t say we’re void of ego,” said Ripken, “but we have a real partnering mentality. If you want to help kids, we want to talk to you.”