ABERDEEN, Md. - Former Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken see the 2015 Orioles making another run at the playoffs. In fact, they predict it will happen.
Before an Aberdeen IronBirds Hot Stove dinner event last night at Ripken Stadium, where they were scheduled to take fans questions, the brothers sized up the Orioles with less than two weeks to go before their opener.
“I would say a week ago you might have had some concerns because spring training didn’t look so good. And I know we don’t put a lot of weight into spring training statistically,” Bill said.
“The Orioles ran away with the East last year. People on the national side, where I kind of hang out from time to time (on MLB Network), were taking potshots at the East. But they still won more games than any other division in baseball. Maybe because the Yankees and Red Sox were not at the top, people were taking shots.
“But the Orioles club is still good. I don’t think their pitching gets enough recognition. They’ve got five guys that can throw a 3.50 ERA up there.
“When it is my turn to make a prediction on the East, I’m going to pick the Orioles up at the top. I don’t see anyone in the East better than them.”
Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said: “They have been good the last few years. I think there was concern that there was not a lot of activity in the offseason. But they have some depth on that club.
“I think the offense they lost can be replaced by (Manny) Machado, (Matt) Wieters and (Chris) Davis. I would give the Orioles a pass and a vote of confidence for what they have been able to do. How they win one-run games, how Buck (Showalter) manages his bullpen.
“They are a playoff-caliber team and that is the only prediction you can really make going in. The season dictates how the year is going to go. An injury here and there can hurt. But are they a playoff-caliber team? They are.”
The brothers were asked who will be the biggest threat to the O’s repeating as division champions in the American League East.
Bill said: “I would look at the Red Sox No. 1. But they still have question marks on their staff. The Yankees have a lot of question marks. Is (Masahiro) Tanaka one pitch away from something going wrong with the elbow? But Boston, offensively, can be the team that people look at them and say this is pretty real. I still don’t think Toronto has enough pitching and lot of people talk about Tampa’s pitching. I don’t quite see what everyone else is seeing. I think the Orioles and Boston are the top two teams in the East.”
Cal said: “I know the Yankees have a lot of questions, but if CC (Sabathia) does come back, their bullpen is now bolstered. I could see everything kind of lining up for the Yankees. I wouldn’t underestimate them. I’ve never been a big advocate that you can score more runs than everyone else and bang your way to the title. Boston improved their offense and needed to but beyond the Orioles I kind of like the Yankees’ possibilities.”
The Ripken brothers and family have certainly been busy and have had a significant role in baseball since their playing days ended.
They are proud of the success of the Orioles minor league affiliate they own, the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds, who play at beautiful Ripken Stadium in Harford County.
This summer will be the 20th anniversary of Cal breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and there is a celebration of that planned for Sept. 2 at Ripken Stadium.
“I think you should try to recreate that 22-minute lap,” Bill quipped.
Aberdeen’s season begins June 19 at home and the IronBirds will host the New York-Penn League All-Star Game for a second time on Aug. 18.
I asked the Ripkens what have been some of their most meaningful accomplishments since their playing days ended.
“We are sitting in one right now,” Bill said of Ripken Stadium. “I remember the feeling we had when we opened here (in 2002), similar to what it was like when we ran out for an opener at Memorial Stadium. There was that same kind of sense of accomplishment and pride. It was pretty amazing, a facility and ballclub coming together at one time. It was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of, period.”
“The kids’ side here is great, too,” Cal said of the youth fields at the complex in Aberdeen. “The development and growth of the camps and tournament business here. The other thing for me is the success of the Cal Sr. Foundation, which we named after dad to capture his legacy and use baseball as a tool to get in front of kids.
“We are building fields all across the country. We were satisfied being a regional foundation and now we are all over the place. It is gratifying to open a new field and impact kids in another part of the country.”
The Ripkens have now built more than 50 youth development parks around the country, providing kids with quality fields and safe places to play.
They are also very proud of the Boys and Girls Club field in their hometown of Aberdeen. It was named after their Mom as the Vi Ripken Field last August. Vi Ripken was instrumental in founding the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County in 1989.
“That was a glorious day,” Cal said.
The brothers were asked what Cal Sr., were he still alive, would think about all they’ve done in Aberdeen and beyond.
“He’d be pretty happy walking around and would spend an awful lot of time here. If he were here, you’d see him every day here,” Bill said.
“Yeah, he’d be here all the time. He’d be happy,” Cal said.