Cal Ripken Jr. visits Japanese youth
TOKYO -- Cal Ripken Jr. took a message of hope and perseverance to Japanese children affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The Hall of Fame infielder, who earned the nickname "Iron Man" for playing in 2,632 consecutive games during his 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, put on a baseball clinic in Ofunato, Japan, as part of a nine-day mission as a sports diplomat on behalf of the U.S. State Department.
Some of them lost their entire families, they lost everything they had and in many cases they were the only ones left from their families. You realize a baseball team for most of us is a secondary family but for some of these kids it became a primary family.” -- Cal Ripken Jr.
Some 70 junior high school students from schools throughout the disaster area took part in the clinic conducted by Ripken, his former Baltimore teammate Brady Anderson and Japanese baseball's own "Iron Man," Sachio Kinugasa.
"We were able to provide a small distraction," Ripken said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "Something that makes you feel good, makes you smile and maybe just for a brief moment helps you get through the day."
Ripken said he was fascinated to hear that some of the students would play baseball deep into the night just to help them deal with their losses.
"It was horrific in many ways," Ripken said. "Some of them lost their entire families, they lost everything they had and in many cases they were the only ones left from their families. You realize a baseball team for most of us is a secondary family but for some of these kids it became a primary family."
While he said there was no comparison between his streak and what the students in the region were going through, the mental approach that allowed him to play in 2,632 consecutive games could provide some valuable lessons.
"I think there is a valuable process that says we played it one game at a time and had to focus on what you could control today to get you to tomorrow," he said.
This was 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.
He said touring the disaster zone was a sobering experience.
"Going through the areas and seeing it firsthand started to get me emotional," Ripken said. "There is no way you can fathom the scale of what happened by seeing it on TV. When you are standing there and looking left and looking right and seeing some signs of how high the water came -- some people told me it was almost 50 feet in some areas -- you can't realize what anyone would do in that situation."
Some of the children that Ripken instructed had met him before. In August, 16 young Japanese baseball and softball players traveled to the United States for a three-week exchange program.
Ripken's consecutive game streak broke the Major League Baseball record held by Lou Gehrig (2,130) and the mark in Japan set by Kinugasa (2,215).
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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