SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Cal Ripken Jr. -- nicknamed "The Iron Man" for playing in a Major League Baseball-record 2,632 straight games -- has been out of the big leagues for almost two decades now. But since he retired in 2001, Ripken has made it one of his missions in life to give back to the game he played and loves.
One of his primary avenues is through the Cal Ripken Sr., Foundation, a non-profit organization co-founded by Ripken and his brother Billy, dedicated to honoring his father through the establishment of important life skills in the lives of American youths.
"We really want to get in front of kids and use baseball to match them up with mentors, to help them do productive things and set them up for the rest of their lives," Ripken said. "It allows me to go back and be a kid again and relate to the kids. My dad used to say 'Everything that happens in baseball happens in life.' He used to teach us about life through baseball. The thing I like the most is that sports gives you a chance to understand how to be a team member and how to work together for a common goal. There's also a ton of individual responsibility and accountability to your teammates that come from that. I think those two simple things alone will help them in all aspects of their life."
The foundation has created more than 80 recreational facilities throughout the country, a figure that now includes the city of San Antonio. Ripken partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio to build Harvey E. Najim Field, a turf-based facility designed to host all kinds of outdoor activities.
"We can play baseball, softball, soccer, flag-football and all kinds of sports," explained Boys & Girls Club CEO Angie Mock. "It's going to be used by kids 6-18 for decades to come and not just for kids on the East but for all of the kids of the Boys & Girls Club across the city, which is almost 9,000 members. This was a project that we really believed in to the core, that kids on the East side needed a safe, first-class place to recreate and play. We got committed to that and the donors in San Antonio got behind it. It's great to have Cal here, as well as the team from the Cal Ripken Sr., Foundation. They're a first-class organization and we're so proud that they're our partner."
Tuesday afternoon, Ripken visited San Antonio and got a chance to see the field in action, playing baseball and having fun with the local kids.
"It's always cool to see the concept, raise the money and get everybody in the community together, but the best part about it is once you open the park, you see the finished product and see how the kids really enjoy it," Ripken explained. "We're not looking for baseball players -- we're not looking to grow the game. We're looking to use the magic of the game. Out here it's all about getting the kids to have fun and eliminate the pressures, because I think there are a lot of pressures on young kids growing up. If we can take them out of that pressure cooker and allow them to be kids, I think that's a secret for success in a lot of areas."