Ripken lives for
his children, Rachel, 5, and Ryan. "They are the greatest thing that has
ever happened to me," he said. "I think kids are the secret to life.
Those who aren't parents, to me, are missing out on that secret."
trainers, Richie Bancells and Jamie Reed, brought their kids to the party, and
not necessarily so they could play with Ripken's kids. "My three kids know
that when they go to Rip's house, they're going there for one reason--to play
with Rip," said Bancells. "Kids love him. But no matter how much fun
they had, he had more. The adults were all sitting on the side eating crabs and
drinking beer, and there's Rip in the middle of the pool with eight kids
hanging on him."
"We call him
the Pied Piper," said Cal's wife, Kelly, who is six feet tall and very
athletic. "Kids love him because he's a kid. Living with him is like living
with a third child."
When Cal plays
with Ryan, they sometimes do look like a pair of kids. "I'll dunk,"
said Cal, "then he'll run up to his little basket and dunk." For his
birthday Ryan got a miniature locker with his name on it, just like his dad's.
He does everything like his dad.
Cal, too, had
footsteps in which to follow. His father, Cal Sr., worked in baseball for 36
years, as a player, manager and coach, and because of that, Cal Jr. knows what
his own prolonged absences mean to his kids. That's why every morning, no
matter how late he gets home from the previous night's game, Cal gets up and
eats breakfast with his children. Then he takes Rachel to school. "That's
Rachel's time, in the car with me," he said. "It comes from growing up
in a family where the game took my father away on a regular basis. The most
important time between my dad and me wasn't at the park, it was en route to the
park. I didn't go with him so I could play baseball but just to be with him.
That 20 minutes in the car was why I went. I hope she looks back at our time in
the same way."
Lots of people,
especially professional athletes, take a room in their house and convert it
into a home gymnasium. Ripken has a gym that is big enough to convert into a
home. He calls it "the family playhouse" because the kids' toys are in
there, but, truth be told, many of the toys belong to him. It is where he plays
basketball in the off-season, where his batting cage is located, where he lifts
weights, where his oscillating tennis-ball machine shoots him grounders, where
he plays floor hockey.
Kelly, who was a
pretty fair basketball player in her day, will go one-on-one with Cal from time
to time. In 1973, as a 14-year-old, she finished second in the state of
Maryland in a basketball skills contest. Kelly smiles and says, "That was a
big thing to him, because he tried to win that competition and didn't make it
to the finals." She picks up a ball and playfully starts dribbling, backing
him in toward the basket.
the same way every time--watch, there it is," says Cal. Typical Rip. He
even has a scouting report on his wife.
In fact, he has
scouting reports on all the players who play in his gym. From November through
January, five days a week since 1990, there has been a pickup game at his gym.
Before that Ripken and his buddies used to play in the gym at a local private
school, but there usually wasn't anyone good enough to guard him, and his team
won almost every game. Always needing to be challenged, he began importing
players from all across Maryland for a regular game at his home, and he's been
doing it ever since. There is one group of guys who play college ball. They're
young, so they give Ripken his best workout. Another group is made up of former
college and pro players; they have experience, so they can teach Ripken the
finer points of the game. Then there are games mostly with Ripken's Orioles
teammates. "He never mixes the groups," says Flanagan. "Each one
gives him something different to help his game."
For games this
good the best ball is needed. Always the perfectionist, Ripken isn't satisfied
just to have a Spalding NBA ball. He has to have Spalding game balls, ones that
have been sent to him by NBA teams. "Some balls could be defective," he
says. "I want authentic basketballs."