by Don Yaeger
Former Major League Baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
The 2015 MLB Playoffs are a battle of legacies, and one of the biggest match-ups so far involved the Chicago Cubs—a club seeking to escape a history of post-season disappointment—and the historically successful St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs won the series against its heated rival and are on to the National League Championship Series.
But away from the bright lights and TV cameras, Cal Ripken, Jr., former Baltimore Oriole and Hall-Of-Famer, is building an even greater legacy by creating a future for children, one baseball diamond at a time. And during this amazing time in the baseball season, Ripken reached an incredible milestone, cutting the ribbon on his 50th baseball diamond.
Ripken’s career has a theme of longevity. Not only does he hold the MLB record for most consecutive games started, but he’s always thinking and acting strategically with his projects—he set a goal four-plus years ago to build 50 fields in five years. The goal was set when Ripken saw a pressing need in places he hadn’t previously noticed.
“For many years after my retirement we’ve enjoyed teaching the game of baseball to young people, but we discovered that in some cities there were no safe places for these programs to exist,” said Ripken. “I realized that if we built these beautiful, synthetic fields in places that needed them, then our efforts were going to be an important contribution to the local children and communities.”
Motivated by the opportunity to make a difference, Ripken and his team spared no expense in providing big-league amenities for “the world’s finest youth baseball complexes”—all complete with synthetic turf, batting cages, lighted fields and training areas.
“My father always said that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” said Ripken. “Cal Ripken, Sr. used baseball to communicate, help, and give kids a chance. By building these fields, we are also bringing my father’s legacy to light.”
Ripken and his foundation desired to build ten fields a year, a construction feat that soared to a cost of $1.2 million per facility, all of which Ripken would have to fundraise. It was a number that would have made even the most seasoned fundraising team have second doubts, but Ripken didn’t flinch. He trusted his roadmap for success—which accounted for the fundraising challenge—and raised the expected funds.
Another key component in Ripken’s roadmap has been creating community partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and the Living Classroom—all groups that understand the dynamics of youth recreation—to act as deputized organizations that would preserve each field for its intended purposes.
Memorial Stadium Youth Development Park — Baltimore, MD (Photo courtesy of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation)
Last month, Ripken cut the ribbon on his 50th field and has many more in development. He’ll always be associated with Oriole orange and black and being known as a workhorse of baseball, but future generations will also know him for his special complexes… which will host an estimated 200,000 young athletes each year.
“Our fields are enhancing areas and transforming communities,” said Ripken. “Even though these fields are constructed in the spirit of baseball, we want the children to use these safe places for whatever they want. In the end, it’s for the youth. When we look back on this in ten or fifteen years, we will have impacted many communities by providing these great development parks.”
Like many of the great ones in sports and business, Ripken lives by a clearly defined roadmap—which has helped him accomplish some incredible things. He could have taken a safer retirement choice but instead created a new vision to solve a real need…and was not afraid to take calculated risks. Ripken is an example to every professional desiring to leave a fulfilling, multi-layered legacy.
What legacy would you like to leave, and what is your plan to get there?