Ripken ready for new role in organization, Rubenstein talks stadium lease, All-Star Game and more

Cal Ripken Jr. sat in the first row this morning during the introductory press conference for new Orioles control person David Rubenstein, watching a video chronicling the team’s history, including the numbers 2,131 dropping from the warehouse on the night that he set baseball’s consecutive-games record, and catching a glimpse of his future.

The Hall of Famer is back in the organization in an official role as a member of the ownership group. He’s become more visible at the ballpark over the last few seasons, but the organization is making its boldest move to embrace him in post-retirement.

“It’s a different Opening Day for me, for sure,” he said. “I had all those wonderful years as a player, then as a fan for the next so many years. I always had that feeling right around Opening Day that things were starting, baseball’s coming back. But this is slightly different. It feels really good to be back in a formal capacity.

“Many times in life, it’s a matter of timing, and the timing feels really good right now to come back and be able to contribute.”

Ripken has known Rubenstein for a long time and they’d talk occasionally about their friendship progressing to a baseball relationship.

“It happened pretty quickly,” Ripken said. “It came together really fast. Had a good conversation with David and I’m really thankful that he included me in the ownership group.”

Ripken said he’s willing to contribute in any capacity, his skill set expanding after playing his final game in 2001.

“I learned about business in the last 20 years, so I can make a contribution there,” he said. “I know a little bit about baseball, where I can be a sounding board for Mike (Elias). But Mike and company have really done a fantastic job of restoring baseball. They’ve loaded the farm system, got a lot of talent at the big league level. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed, as far as I’m concerned. But if I can help in some small way, I’m glad to be available as a resource.”

Asked more about the state of the team, Ripken said, “I couldn’t be prouder.”

“Wearing the Oriole uniform all those years, every time you went out of town you were representing the city of Baltimore and representing the Orioles franchise. We’ve had some ups and downs over our time. I was part of the (1988) team that lost 21 games (in a row) and my dad was fired as the manager. You tend to get past that. But every time you wear the uniform you wear it with pride, and I’m very proud of where the Orioles are right now.

“I’m excited to watch the games. The last couple years I’ve come to more games, and I plan on being here a whole lot more now. I’m proud of the Orioles. They’re looked upon all around the country as a really good baseball organization, so I’m really proud of that.”

Ripken laughed at the suggestion that his hiring completes his legacy.

“I kind of look at life as a lot of learning experiences, and there’s a lot of value in the last 20 years,” he said. “Learning business, I felt like I came to the table late, but having that experience there puts you in a better position to contribute to what’s happening now. But the timing feels good. A lot of excitement, a lot of people are congratulating me, and that always makes you feel good. It’s exciting and I’m really jazzed about it.”

Ripken also said he hasn’t heard of any discussions regarding how to keep the young talent away from free agency. The sale just went through yesterday after unanimous approval from Major League Baseball owners. Let the ink dry.

“There’s going to be some challenges, there’s going to be some decisions to be made,” Ripken said, “but it’s a great problem to have when you’ve assembled all the talent that Mike Elias has assembled.”

The press conference began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse and their families. Gov. Wes Moore spoke first.

“The thing that I have always found about David is this,” Moore said. “Not only has he always been incredibly generous with his time, every conversation that I’ve had with David has began with a simple question: ‘How’s Baltimore doing?’ David is a Baltimore guy, and to have him at the helm of this team means everything. To the city and to the state. So, David, thank you for believing in Baltimore.

“David and I and so many in this room know that this team is about so much more than just a baseball franchise. This team is about the city. The Orioles are the soul of Baltimore, and knowing that, this city’s going to need you now more than ever.

“This team reminds us what we’re made of. The Orioles give us hope, the Orioles give us pride. The Orioles remind us what it means to be Maryland tough and Baltimore strong. So today, Baltimore stands strong, Baltimore stands tough. And Baltimore plans on seeing it through.”

Rubenstein, who also stood with co-owner Michael Arougheti, talked about his Baltimore roots and his passion for the city and the team, and the unbreakable bond between the two.

“Baltimore is a unique city,” he said. “I grew up here. I know the plusses, I know the minuses, I know the challenges, I know the opportunities. And we have now a political team in the city and the state that I think can really help make this city live up to all of its potential. I hope the Orioles can play a small part in that. I hope what can happen is that the Orioles can, by winning, by unifying the city, by recovering the kind of greatness that it had in 1966 or ’70 or (’83), we can win a World Series again.

“But to do that, it’s not easy and it requires everybody to pull together. The 26 players on the team are 26 key people to make the team go forward, but you really need people in the back office, the front office and the fans and the commercial interests in the city, and the whole character of the city to pull together. Nobody’s ever won a World Series by having a fan base that didn’t care about the team. Nobody’s ever won a World Series with lethargic fans. You need fans who are dedicated and care about the team. That’s what we have, but we’re going to have it even more, I hope.

“This is a new day, a new chapter. We’ve had some challenges in the past, but we’re looking forward. And in this regard, I want to thank John Angelos and his family, particularly his mother, Georgia, who I met with recently. They’ve had some challenges, for sure. There’s no doubt that it was not easy at times, but John Angelos decided it was a good time for a new chapter and I thank him for doing so.”

Rubenstein pointed out that the purchase price of the Orioles when they moved here in 1954 was $2.2 million. They sold this week for $1.725 billion.

“My partners and I are paying a little bit more than that, inflation being what it is,” he said, “but we’re proud of every penny we’re paying, that it is worth every penny that we’re paying because we really have a unique franchise with an incredible group of young players, with the best general manager (Mike Elias) in baseball, the best manager (Brandon Hyde) in baseball, and I hope the best fans in baseball.

“What I hope to do is to make sure this is not the high-water mark. Today is an easy day to say everything is great, and hopefully we’ll win Opening Day, but I don’t want this to be the high-water mark. I want the high-water mark to be in the fall when we go to the World Series and we show what we are. A city that supports a great team, and we are a city that is represented by a great team, and we unify the city in a way that only the Orioles can really do.”

“I think one of the things I love more than baseball is winning, and I know David does, too,” Arougheti said. “While we are united in many views and many things, I think we are together in our steadfast hunger to bring a World Series championship back to Baltimore as soon as possible, and we’ll do everything that we can to do that.”

Rubenstein asked Elias to speak to the crowd, calling him “Most Valuable Person” and catching him off guard.

“Thanks for the heads-up,” Elias quipped.

“It’s just been so nice getting to know you personally, and the support you give to our franchise and our city,” Elias said. “It’s really personal and it means a lot to us.”

Some players have met Rubenstein and others look forward to the opportunity. They are fully on board with his mission.

“All of us are extremely grateful for what the Angelos family did, giving us all the opportunity to be here,” said pitcher Tyler Wells. “But I think with Rubenstein, it’s just, I think the words they continue to use that have been really good are, ‘the next chapter.’ I think it just creates a lot of excitement for players to be able to just kind of move on to this next chapter with the organization.

“It’s very historic for us and I think it’s going to continue to be something we’re looking forward to and seeing how the organization grows over time and definitely throughout this year.”

“That’s what you want from an owner,” said reliever Danny Coulombe. “You want somebody who is going to put his resources into achieving the ultimate goal, which is to win a World Series. I’ve read some of his quotes. It seems like that’s No. 1 on his list, so we’re all excited, too.”

The Orioles signed a new stadium lease that currently runs for 15 years but will reach 30. The Orioles have until the end of 2027 to finalize and receive state approval for a ground lease. Rubenstein said today that he’s hoping to get it done by the end of the year.

“The governor convinced me that he would get it through the legislature as soon as possible,” Rubenstein said, “so thank you very much, governor, for that.”

The city hasn’t hosted the All-Star Game since 1993 and Major League Baseball already has allocated locations through 2026. Rubenstein sounded optimistic that the Orioles will get their turn.

“It’s something we’re obviously interested in,” he said. “We hope by that time that the stadium will be rehabilitated a bit, and therefore we’d like to show it off,” he said. “Once we have the rehabilitated Camden Yards, I think it would be a great time to then show it off. We want to make sure we have it completed, though. I’m familiar with the situation.”

Rubenstein also was asked about the possibility of a corporation taking over naming rights to the ballpark, which long-time owner Peter G. Angelos steadfastly resisted.

“There have been proposals for that,” Rubenstein said. “No decision is imminent, and I am familiar with the proposal that came forward. But, you know, it’s something we’ll take a look at, but nothing is going to happen immediately. And I have been in touch with those people that would like to do the naming, and I just have to follow up after we get the Opening Day things behind us.”

Rubenstein left the press conference and eventually walked the concourse as fans filed into Camden Yards. He shook hands. He stopped at a concession stand, then walked onto the field with his white Orioles cap and slipped on a jersey.

He ushered in the next chapter.

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