In honor of it being October, playoffs in the MLB, and the Orioles being in the playoffs (So excited!), I’m going to share my memory of one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Cal Ripken Jr. and how he not only positively impacted my life but also my family.
Most people know I’m a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan despite the fact that I was born and raised in Maryland. Most of my family is originally from northwestern PA and being a Steelers fan is in my blood. And although I would say my favorite NL team is the Pittsburgh Pirates, I love the Baltimore Orioles!!! Win or lose, the O’s will forever be my favorite baseball team. My dream job would be to work for them in their communications department or for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. Seriously, I would scream if they offered me a job.
So why am I an Orioles fan? Well, growing up in Maryland and having three older brothers who also love the O’s, had a lot to do with that but I have a very special memory of Cal Ripken Jr.
In 1993, my dad was diagnosed with ALS or better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Most people are aware of ALS because of the crazy Ice Bucket challenge that took over all social media for the past couple months but I’ll explain it to those of you who don’t know much about ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neuro-degenerative disorder or a disease that slowly destroys one’s motor neurons, paralyzing them and eventually killing them. It is an awful disease and one should ever have to experience it.
Lou Gehrig, who played for the New York Yankees, had ALS and he became the first to really put the disease on the map or raise awareness of it. That is why it is referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease and it is also why the MLB and other baseball organizations, year after year, donate to the ALS association and honor those with ALS.
Two years after my dad was diagnosed with ALS, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent my first surgery. (My poor mother, she couldn’t catch a break but I just wasn’t going to let my dad get all the attention)
Those were a rough couple years for my family but one of the things that held us together was, and still is, the Baltimore Orioles.
So I’m not sure exactly why, but my mom started writing to Cal Ripken Jr. I guess you could say there were a number of reasons. First of all, my dad had ALS and along with the MLB having a close connection to ALS patients; Cal was also attempting to break Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Second, I just had brain surgery and most kids are not lucky enough to experience brain surgery at 5 years-old. (that’s sarcasm if you couldn’t pick up on it) Third of all, the whole family adored Cal; he is such a classy guy and a fantastic role model! (they don’t make many professional athletes like him anymore)
I don’t know what happened from there but somehow his personal secretary read my mom’s letters and they started to write back and forth to each other. The two of them arranged for my family to meet Cal before one of the O’s home games. But instead of telling their kids, my parents wanted us to be surprised for this meeting.
So conveniently for my brother’s birthday, our family went to see an Orioles game to celebrate the day. We arrived at the park a couple hours before the game to watch batting practice. I love Camden Yards! It is one of the most beautiful places on earth! There is not a bad seat in that stadium.
Well, my brothers and I were just having fun, goofing around and next thing I knew, we were getting a tour of the park, going behind scenes, and being on the field for batting practice!! (it was SO AWESOME!) As my family walked back into the locker room and into one of the media rooms, a man who was crouching down on his knees, started to stand up and said hi to us. It was Cal Ripken Jr!!!
All I can remember is compared to short, little me, this man stood up and I thought his head was going to hit the ceiling; he was so tall! My brothers and I were blown away and absolutely speechless. He spent at least half an hour with just my family, signing autographs, taking pictures, and talking to us. I do remember when he took a picture with me, Cal had to kneel down in order to fit in the picture. And not to sound like a total girl but he had the most beautiful blue eyes!
Our time with Cal obviously had to end so he could go play in the game and we needed to go find our seats which were right behind the Orioles dugout! Before the game, I honestly forget who it was but one of the other players was signing autographs near our seats. A lady behind us said to my mom how shocked she was that my brothers and I weren’t waiting for his autograph. The truth was, we just met our hero and he not only signed baseballs but Cal took the time to hang out with us and create memories that we will treasure forever. Some athletes or just people in general are so selfish, focused only on their careers or how much money they’re making, that they forget to give back to others or make time for their fans. But not Cal Ripken Jr. At a young age, he showed me that life is not only about you, but also how you affect those around you. He also showed me the importance of being grateful about where you are in life and giving back to others.
Several years after that, when I was overdosed with radiation, my parents and I had to fly out to California for some medical testing. My mom had kept in touch with Cal’s secretary and after explaining all of the struggles we were facing, Cal actually paid for my parents and I to fly to and from California.
Three years later, in 2001, my dad lost his battle to ALS. Cal sent a condolence card.
In my opinion, his actions say so much about his character. Cal Ripken Jr. is not only a fantastic baseball player but truly a remarkable human being and will forever be my Iron Hero.