Cal Ripken Jr. on Final All-Star Game, the Orioles and Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterJuly 12, 2012

Cal Ripken Jr. looks forward to playing shortstop with his fellow baseball legends.
Cal Ripken Jr. looks forward to playing shortstop with his fellow baseball legends.M. David Leeds/Getty Images

If you're putting a team of baseball legends together, you couldn't go wrong by picking Cal Ripken Jr. to be the starting shortstop.

Ripken starts at shortstop for the American League club in the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams game. The lineups for each team, along with the two winners who get to play with these greats, were announced on Tuesday before the All-Star Game in Kansas City. 

But home-field advantage still has to be determined for the game. Fans can vote for each of the regional winners, and the winner gets to have the game played in his hometown. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Ripken about playing with so many Hall of Famers and baseball legends. We also discussed the run of success that Ripken's Baltimore Orioles are currently enjoying. Ripken also had some thoughts to share on the development of the shortstop position since his playing days ended.

I hope you enjoy our conversation. 

Tonight is Chipper Jones' final All-Star Game, and it's his final season. You went through a similar circumstance in 2001. Obviously, the situations are different; you started the game, for one thing.  But what was going through your mind at the time? Were you trying to take in every moment? Or were you trying to keep all of that at a distance so you could focus on playing?

That's interesting, because I do remember Chipper's reaction when I hit a home run in the first at-bat. He was clapping in the field, into his glove, which I thought was pretty cool.

But just to take you back, my feelings were that I was unsure going into the season whether it was going to be my last or not. So I had determined that it was, earlier in the year. Then it was a last-minute push to vote me into the All-Star Game.

And selfishly, I think I wanted to be back just one last time, in order to say goodbye. Once I was voted in, I think the attitude was to kind of take it all in, soak it up, kind of remember.

And the other part about it was, I wanted to play well. You know, I really wanted to do well. Not to leave a mark or not to say goodbye, but I just wanted, for my own personal pride, to play well.

I had a great ovation in the first at-bat. Everybody really showed an outpouring of love and it was a chance to say goodbye. Then I turned around and hit the first pitch for a home run, which couldn't have been more perfect, running around the bases.

So I felt really good about my contribution. But I also was able to hang with the game's greatest players one more time.

I have to ask you about the Orioles. I get asked all the time whether or not they're for real, so I can only imagine how often you get asked the same question. What are your thoughts on this year's team and do you see them continuing to compete with the Yankees and for a playoff spot in the second half of the season?

They have the nucleus of a good team, but they're in this position because they pitched extremely well early on. But they haven't done as well lately. They're going to have to pitch, no doubt about it, in the second half.

Hammel and Chen will have to continue to be good. And I'm a little concerned that [Jake] Arrieta and Brian Matusz, who started the season in that staff, they both got sent back. Maybe that's for short term, maybe that'll help in the long run. But you look to the whole rest of the staff and you keep your fingers crossed.

I think the Orioles feel, by and large, that they have a playoff-caliber team at this point and they're going to try and do everything they can. Maybe a little impatience for some of the younger guys is needed. I'm not sure. I think they have a good club and I'm keeping my fingers crossed, as a fan here in the Orioles' market, that the pitching will continue to do well.

So obviously, if there's one area that the Orioles could upgrade at the trade deadline, if they make a big move, do you see pitching as the way to go?

Well, they grabbed [Jim] Thome in a trade that allowed them to have a bat. Certainly, Thome still continues to be productive and gives you a big home-run bat. Earlier in the year, they were hitting a lot of home runs as a team. Lately, runs are hard to come by.

But if it was me, you still want to shore up your pitching. The year before, they were 30th in the league in pitching. This year, most of the staff found some success early. I'm not even familiar with the other guys in the starting rotation, now that they sent Arrieta and Matusz down. But certainly, that could be an area of concern.

What can you tell us about your involvement with the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game? By the time this runs, the announcement will have been made that you're the starting shortstop for the American League team.

We announced the teams [Tuesday] here at Fan Fest. Mike Schmidt announced the National League team, and I had the great honor of announcing the rest of the American League team. In many ways, I think it's a really cool promotion, a really cool concept.

For the players, from my standpoint, it feels like another All-Star vote, but they're actually looking at your full career. It's a gathering of the legends of the sport, and they'll put a bat in our hands, a glove in our hands, the great part about it is we'll all be together. The two winners, they should be out of their minds with the opportunity to go out and play a game with these guys.

Have you talked to some of the other guys, besides Mike Schmidt, about who will be playing in the game, what you're expecting, what you're looking for?

No, I announced the team and then started looking at the list here.

For me, I see Brooksie [Brooks Robinson] playing third. And Brooksie was my childhood hero. Rod Carew, I got a great amount of respect for, he's the second baseman. Big Frank Thomas as the first baseman.

Yogi Berra, I'm not so sure Yogi's going to be playing. [Laughs] But it's great to be anywhere with Yogi.

Palmer, Eckersley, Molitor, Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson. To me, I love hanging around these guys. So it's an opportunity to be with them, have a little fun.

You mentioned playing alongside Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer being on the team. That's a pretty strong Orioles presence there on the AL team.

[Laughs] There you go.

I assume you haven't had a chance to talk with Brooks or Jim about that. But that speaks impressively, I would imagine, about Orioles fans and the impression that the three of you left on the game.

Well, I have a chance to talk to Jim this Saturday. He gets his statue unveiled at Camden Yards. It's a very nice ceremony. I was there for Earl [Weaver's] ceremony, but I missed Frank [Robinson's]. But Jim's going to have his this Saturday, so I'll have a chance to talk to him about this.

I think most of the guys, I don't want to speak for them, I think most of them, we share many experiences. And in many cases, a long career, a fulfilling career. It's great to be around and just kind of reminisce about baseball and share stories. For me, personally, I'm ecstatic I was voted in.

You mentioned there were two winners. One fan won the chance to play with the American League team, another for the National League team. But people can still vote for either of the winners to determine where the game will be played, in either of the winners' hometown, right?

Yeah, it's kind of funny. It's a nice play on home-field advantage. If you start to think about it as the All-Star Game is going to decide who has home-field advantage in the World Series, this vote can decide where the game's going to be played, who's going to have home-field advantage from the two winners. I know it's a little bit of a stretch.

D.C. is one of the places and Rochester, New York is the other. Obviously, for me, D.C. would be right down the street. That would be pretty fun. But Rochester, New York, I have a special affinity for that small town. That's where I knew I was going to be a big league player.

Oh, that's right. I didn't even make that connection. So it's a win-win for you, really.

It is a win-win for me. So I don't think I'm going to impact the vote one way or the other.

Derek Jeter recently passed you on the all-time hits list. Last week, we posted an article asking if we'd ever see 4,000 hits again. The only guy who really seems to have a chance is Jeter and he's still more than 800 hits away. Do you think we'll even see 3,000 hits again after Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols likely reach that milestone?

Yeah, I would imagine. It's kind of ironic, when you start to think about it.

You got Mike Trout and you've got Bryce Harper who have burst on to the scene this year, both 19 and 20.

It could be some foreshadowing to the health, the future of Major League Baseball to have those kind of guys coming in and having an impact this early. The earlier you get to the big leagues, the quicker you have an impact.

You can't project either one of those guys to have 3,000 hits, of course, but you can look at their potential and say there's going to be guys like that who come along and make their own names. It takes a player that is pretty consistent over a long period of time. And they have to play a long period of time to get to 3,000 hits. But yeah, that milestone is reachable.

What do you think about the evolution of the shortstop position? These days, other than Troy Tulowitzki, we don't see bigger, power-type players such as you and Alex Rodriguez at the position anymore.

Do you think it's just too hard to find a good bat and a good glove at the position? Or are players like you, as they were coming through the minor leagues, are they shuttled too quickly to other positions like third base?

I don't think they're too shuttled. Just examine the position of second base for a minute. Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla, Ian Kinsler. I mean, Ian Kinsler's got some speed and runs as well.

But the second base position is celebrating a lot of power. Shortstop, at one point, was celebrating a lot of power.

I don't necessarily think that bigger guys are being shuttled away from the position. I mean, Jeter's a big guy. Tulowitzki's a big guy that plays like a small guy in many ways because he has the ability to run around, he has the agility to make throws like a smaller guy would. He also has the power to do it as a big guy.

Maybe we're just going through a rotation, we're celebrating second base more than we are shortstop now.

I was going to say, it probably just speaks to what an exceptional era that was with you and then the wave of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra at that position. It seemed like shortstop was changing, but now it's kind of going back, almost to a defense-first position. I realize that's the priority at that position, but it's been an interesting evolution.

I'm just trying to think of the other guys that are playing that position, who jumps out as someone who's got home runs. Who's the guy that used to be with Boston, now he's with Houston?

Oh, Jed Lowrie. Yeah, you're right. There's a guy who's hitting for some power.

And then the guy with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Stephen Drew.

Yeah, for some reason, I just tend to think of guys like Brendan Ryan with the Mariners. Jhonny Peralta is another guy, with Detroit. He's struggled a little bit this year, but last year, he had big numbers. Zack Cozart, with Cincinnati, is one more who fits the prototype we were talking about.

Yeah, so to me, it seems like those guys are still there. Maybe they're not tearing up the home run charts right now. But certainly, I think any team would look for a Robinson Cano type even to play second base or shortstop. Because if you have defense and offense, you're way ahead of the game.

Well, thank you so much, Cal. It was a pleasure to speak with you.

Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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