A few minutes with Cal Ripken

Because they’re pretty much involved in everything these days, it comes as no surprise that Cal and Billy Ripken are lending their names and a hand to the 2011 Under Armour All-America Baseball Game that’s being played Aug. 13 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

This is the fourth year that Under Armour and Baseball Factory have collaborated to present the game, which showcases the country’s elite high school baseball players. Baseball Factory scouts thousands of athletes worldwide before making the selections, and players are evaluated at events throughout the country.

Billy is serving as one of the coaches, and both brothers will work with the players, offering advice and “enhancing the experience,” Cal said.

“I don’t know how it can be enhanced much more than what they’re doing,” Cal said during a phone conversation yesterday morning. “They spend four days up there. They play a game at Wrigley Field and get to work out together as teammates. The last few years, Billy and I have worked with them up there. I’d go to the cages in the hitting stations and show them some of the routines that the big league guys use and tell them, ‘You need to find yours.’ Give them the importance of having a routine, give them some logic, give them something they can add to their preparation.

“Billy and I have spoken to them on the eve of the game, trying to give them some sort of wisdom. And it’s really well-run. It’s a fantastic event and the kids get great exposure. It pulls together great talent from across the country. It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids and a great opportunity for us to work with them.”

One of those kids is Ryan Ripken, a first baseman at Gilman.

“Well, I’ll know one of the guys intimately,” Cal joked.

“It’s been fun to watch his success athletically, basketball as well as baseball, and to see how he enjoys both sports. And he’s navigating a little more toward baseball this summer.”

I still imagine Ryan as a little boy sitting in the front row at Camden Yards for 2,131, but he’s graduating from high school next year. He’s also passed his dad in height.

“He’s between 6-5 and 6-6, 190 pounds,” Cal said. “He’s long and lean. And he has great hand-eye coordination. He’s a fantastic first baseman, but he also loves to be on the mound from time to time. For me to see him have success and the enjoyment that the game can bring, watching him is 100 times better than when you actually did it yourself.”

I joked about Ryan outgrowing shortstop, but being left-handed also played a part in it.

“He’s a straight lefty and he’s been a lefty for a long time,” Cal said. “That ruled out some positions a long time ago.”

You have to figure that wearing the Ripken name on the back of your jersey brings a fair amount of pressure. It’s sort of like playing basketball with the name “Jordan.” Or if my daughter had chosen to blog.

“It is a burden at times,” Cal said. “A lot of the expectations are off the charts and that really is unfair. We all need the chance to develop and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and not be scrutinized as much, but it is what it is. He’s done a wonderful job dealing with it. He’s a humble person and he just tries to go with the flow. But at times, I’ve felt for him. You do pick up on what other people think and what they say and what they see and how they react. He gets singled out more. There are times you want to be recognized and that’s usually for a game-winning hit. Some of that is baggage. I’m glad that I’m there for him. I’m able to give him some perspective and understanding of the process. It is unfair and a burden at times, but he’s a strong kid and a humble kid.”

Ryan is still choosing a college.

“He’s got some pretty good opportunities and he’s trying to weed through them,” Cal said. “Teams are considering him and we’re trying to look at their rosters. I think he’d like to make a choice before the start of his senior year. Even I don’t know yet.”

Cal thought he had a pretty good read on the Orioles this season. He expected much better results after the 34-23 finish under manager Buck Showalter, but they’re headed for a 14th straight losing season.

“I’m not quite sure what happened,” he said. “Know things were going pretty well. And again, looking on paper at some of the moves they made, I applaud them. I love (J.J.) Hardy at shortstop. (Mark) Reynolds is really coming around. You have to live with the strikeouts and the streakiness of Mark, but when he’s swinging the bat, he can really carry an offense. And (Derrek) Lee at first base, I thought was a good fill because he’s such a great first baseman and still has some punch in his bat.

“Expectations clearly might have been raised a little too high based on what Buck did last year. I still think it was a remarkable turnaround the way he had them playing down the stretch against teams that were fighting for a playoff spot. But I still think all the teams I’ve been on, the younger teams, when things start to go a little bad, usually the streaks are extended because they don’t know what to do, and that’s part of the experience. Once they learn how not to let tough losses carry over to the next day, they’ll start to get more consistent and they’ll be better for it.”

Coming up later: Ripken talks more about Hardy and whether the shortstop reminds him of former teammate Mike Bordick.

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