Thursday, November 3, 2011
Cal Ripken to visit Japan as ambassador
BALTIMORE -- Cal Ripken Jr. aspires to become president and CEO of a major league baseball team.
For now, the Hall of Fame infielder is satisfied with his current title: U.S. Public Diplomacy Envoy, a position that provides him the opportunity to embark next week on a nine-day mission through Japan as a sports diplomat on behalf of the State Department.
Ripken and former Baltimore Orioles teammate Brady Anderson are scheduled to lead baseball and softball clinics in Tokyo, Takarazuka and Kyoto. They also will travel to Ofunato, a city recovering from the March earthquake and tsunami.
The trip will run from Nov. 8-16.
"We communicate through baseball," Ripken said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Japan loves their baseball, maybe equally as much or more than we do. It's a fabric of their country in many ways, and in times of disaster or tragedy or when you're a little down, sometimes sports can be a distraction. So when we go over there, we're going to be communicating through baseball to give them a distraction and an enjoyment that's real."
This will be Ripken's third trip as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. He traveled to China in 2007 and to Nicaragua in 2008. A 2008 trip to South Africa was scrapped because of scheduling issues.
Ripken earned the nickname "Iron Man" for playing in 2,632 consecutive games. Along the way he broke the major league record held by Lou Gehrig (2,130) and the mark in Japan set by Sachio Kinugasa (2,215), who will join Ripken and Anderson at the clinics in Tokyo and Ofunato.
Ripken previously visited Japan to play in All-Star games pitting major leaguers against Japanese teams.
"I enjoyed those trips and their love of baseball," Ripken said. "I loved meeting (Japanese slugger) Sadaharu Oh. They have a rich history of their own baseball, and I love being around it."
Some of the children that Ripken will be instructing have already met him. In August, 16 Japanese youth baseball and softball players traveled to the U.S. for a three-week exchange.
"I really enjoyed working with them when they came over here," Ripken said. "Part of the value of this program is to get to know them a little bit."
Now it's time for Ripken and Anderson to finish out the home-and-home schedule.
"A lot of the times, I find I learn more than I teach," said Anderson, who will making his first trip as a sports diplomat.
"When I was thinking about who could help on the mission, spread goodwill and be with kids and all that, Brady's name was at the top of this list," Ripken said.
Ripken took former teammate B.J. Surhoff to China and visited Nicaragua with one-time Oriole Dennis Martinez.
Upon retiring after the 2001 season, Ripken resisted offers to return to the game, saying he wanted to watch his children grow up. His youngest child, Ryan, is poised to graduate in spring.
Ripken had discussions last summer with Orioles owner Peter Angeles and then-president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail about a potential role with the team in the future.
"Certainly the realization was that the timing wasn't right," Ripken said. "I made a decision to be there for my kids when I retired and that hasn't changed. I want to make sure I'm able to enjoy Ryan's senior year and then get him off to college. I really haven't thought much beyond that."
In the meantime, he's stayed busy as chairman and founder of Ripken Baseball, Inc., which owns two minor league teams and runs the business operations for the Tampa Bay Rays' spring training site in Florida.
Ripken says he's been asked to interview as a big league manager "a couple times," but watching the World Series last month convinced him that he might be happier working in the front office.
"If you look at what Nolan Ryan is doing down in Texas, that's the model you would aspire to," Ripken said, referring to the president and CEO of the AL-champion Rangers. "He has the ability to impact some of the day-to-day decisions, but also has the ability to shape an organization. I think if you were shooting at something, that would be something that you would shoot for."