DAYTON, Ohio -- In 1993, I was 10 years old and Cal Ripken, Jr. was in his thirteenth season with the Orioles. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an hour east of my hometown, had opened two years before and was hosting that summer’s All-Star Game.
Somehow, some way my father scored two tickets. I still don’t really know how he got them, but I was there in left field watching Bonds, Griffey, Jr. and of course, the Ironman.
Twenty-two years later, I’m outside a Boys and Girls Club in Dayton, Ohio, clipping a microphone onto Ripken’s collar.
“I was actually at the All-Star Game in ’93,” I tell him.
“Do you remember who the MVP of that game was?” he asked.
I knew this one. “Kirby Puckett.”
“You’re right," he said. "Homerun to center, right?”
Today, Ripken is considered a baseball ambassador, the one who saved the game in 1995 -- two years after the strike nearly crippled it. He’s heavier now but still tall (listed at 6 feet, 4 inches) and has the same piercing blue eyes. Ripken played in 19 All-Star Games, winning MVP in 1991 and 2001.
“The one that really put a lot of pressure on me was the one at Camden Yards (in ‘93)," he said. "I got off to a rough start that year (statistically) but that’s the one I probably valued the most.”
Ripken won the Homerun Derby in Toronto in ‘91, hitting 12 homeruns in 22 swings. Did he ever worry the derby could affect his swing?
“Not really," he said. "Many times during the year you’re trying to see how far you can hit the ball in batting practice, it’s just that nobody is watching.
“The format can be taxing. Some people, if they’re swinging really well — Bryce Harper right now is swinging the bat so well, and he hasn’t taken batting practice on the field, you can understand that, that he has a routine he doesn’t want to break," he said. "But I don’t think the Homerun Derby is dangerous, will hurt you or mess up your swing.”
Ripken said he would actually like to see MLB expand the format to include other talents — like running.
“I’m an advocate of the All-Star Game putting together some sort skills competition." he said. "I’d like to see the fast guys, how fast do they run against each other? How fast can they circle the bases?”
Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Great American Ball Park will be the first to implement a timed format. Rather than having a limited number of outs, players will have five minutes to hit as many homeruns as they can.
“I like it. I like it a lot,” Ripken said. “Over the years, you’re sitting there watching it and watching it, and they’re taking ball after ball after ball right down the middle. It is tiring to try and hit a ball out of the ballpark each time. But this year you put a little action in, there will be a little incentive, a little strategy that goes with it. I’m curious to see how that works.”
Ripken began his broadcast career with TBS in 2007. In 2013, his name was surfaced as a potential candidate to manage the Washington Nationals.
“My name keeps surfacing when a job opens up every once in a while," he said. "There’s a part of me though, in the right situation and with the right timing (that would like to manage). What I know is between the white lines. I’m 55 years old right now so I don’t know if my window is closing, but (the game) is what I know.”
Ripken was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. His name appeared on more than 98 percent of the ballots, eight votes short of an unanimous selection. Does one of the most celebrated Hall of Famers believe Pete Rose should be allowed in?
“My general feeling is still the same. The Hall of Fame is a celebration of the game’s best players. I always thought Pete Rose was deserving to be celebrated in that way," he said. "What reinstatement means and what the other things are, that’s for somebody else to decide. Certainly I believe he’s Hall of Fame worthy and he should be there.”