Cal Ripken: ‘Lots of reasons to be optimistic’

There is hope associated with Baltimore baseball this spring. The youngsters coming through the minor league system are starting to mature into major league-ready contributors, and the front office brought in a few veterans who appear to be perfect short-term fits. Mr. Oriole himself, Cal Ripken Jr., has noticed the improvement. He took a few minutes to chat about the Orioles — and Topps’ million-baseball card giveaway that he is promoting — with Sporting News‘ Ryan Fagan.

'I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles' arms,' Hall of Famer Cal Ripken says.
‘I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles’ arms,’ Hall of Famer Cal Ripken says.

Sporting News: What are your thoughts on this year’s Orioles? They’re generating a bit of buzz.
Cal Ripken: If you’re an Orioles fan, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic about the coming season. They’ve assembled a lot of talent, young talent, in this rebuilding process. Adam Jones came into his own last year as a center fielder, a fabulous center fielder. (Nick) Markakis is a perennial All-Star out in right field. They’ve got (Miguel) Tejada coming back as a bridge at third base. Garrett Atkins, I thought, was a good pickup. Matt Wieters is a potential Joe Mauer in the making, and the guys they’ve got on the mound — (Kevin) Millwood’s coming in as a true ace to take a little pressure off them, and maybe provide some veteran leadership for these young arms. They’ve got guys who legitimately throw in the upper 90s, and it’s a matter of them figuring out what to throw and when to throw it. If they do, they’re going to be very competitive.

SN: Wieters has all the measureables and had a good rookie season, but what about him stands out to you?
CR: When you first look at him, he’s calm and handles the pitching staff well. He’s a big guy, and he has all the offensive skills that you get excited about out of that position. But he seems to be a smart catcher — one that handles the pitching staff well, and one that you’d be glad to have grow with their young staff. When you look at somebody like Joe Mauer, I think you take for granted some of his defensive skills behind the plate, but I think Matt Wieters is in the same sort of mold as Joe Mauer.

SN: What are your thoughts about Brian Matusz, the young lefty?
CR: The word around baseball about the great young arms — and Brian certainly fits into that — is they have phenomenal stuff. Then it’s a matter of making the pitch at the right time, making the right pitch, and throwing to your game plan and figuring out how to settle into that big league model. Some people can do that really easily. I remember Mike Mussina was somebody who came right into the big leagues and knew what he was doing from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint, and he had success right away. Ben McDonald struggled a little bit, and he had to get his feet on the ground and get more of a game plan before he took off. So, you’re wondering, at least from a makeup standpoint, are they Mussina-types or are they a little more like McDonald-types?

SN:With as many young starters as the Orioles have, they probably have both, right?
CR: Yeah. I’m excited. I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles’ arms.

SN: Did you have a favorite baseball card as a kid?
CR: I was a big Brooks Robinson fan, and I was also a big Cincinnati Reds fan — maybe because I was a front-runner and they were the Big Red Machine and they competed against the Orioles in the 1970 (World) Series. So I tried to collect the starting lineup for the Reds. And, being around Baltimore, Brooks Robinson was hard to get. I remember getting a lot of Tom Shopay cards, but I finally got a Brooks. I couldn’t tell you where Brooksie is; I think my mom might have thrown it out.

SN:Do you remember the first time you got to meet Brooks?
CR: I do. When my dad first came to the big leagues. I was about 14 or 15 years old, and I had the chance to go down and say hello to Brooksie. He didn’t disappoint; he was as nice of a person as I thought he was. Took all the time in the world for me. I still have yet to find a person in the world who says a negative thing about Brooksie. He was my man.

SN: Have you seen some of the cards in this Topps giveaway?
CR: I’m looking at the 1952 Topps rookie card for Mickey Mantle, and this one, they tell me, in vintage condition went for $250,000. This one I have right here has a couple scrapes on it, and they say it’s worth about 20 grand.

SN: The most expensive card I’ve ever held was worth about $70. What’s it feel like to hold a Mantle rookie card?
CR: Well, it doesn’t feel much different. This Mickey Mantle one is really protected. It’s in a real thick case so I can’t do any damage to it, and it’s tagged. So it doesn’t feel much different than holding my rookie card, which is not worth nearly what Mickey’s is. But, you know, baseball cards are baseball cards. The older ones have some nice color.

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

There is hope associated with Baltimore baseball this spring. The youngsters coming through the minor league system are starting to mature into major league-ready contributors, and the front office brought in a few veterans who appear to be perfect short-term fits. Mr. Oriole himself, Cal Ripken Jr., has noticed the improvement. He took a few minutes to chat about the Orioles — and Topps’ million-baseball card giveaway that he is promoting — with Sporting News‘ Ryan Fagan.

'I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles' arms,' Hall of Famer Cal Ripken says.
‘I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles’ arms,’ Hall of Famer Cal Ripken says.

Sporting News: What are your thoughts on this year’s Orioles? They’re generating a bit of buzz.
Cal Ripken: If you’re an Orioles fan, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic about the coming season. They’ve assembled a lot of talent, young talent, in this rebuilding process. Adam Jones came into his own last year as a center fielder, a fabulous center fielder. (Nick) Markakis is a perennial All-Star out in right field. They’ve got (Miguel) Tejada coming back as a bridge at third base. Garrett Atkins, I thought, was a good pickup. Matt Wieters is a potential Joe Mauer in the making, and the guys they’ve got on the mound — (Kevin) Millwood’s coming in as a true ace to take a little pressure off them, and maybe provide some veteran leadership for these young arms. They’ve got guys who legitimately throw in the upper 90s, and it’s a matter of them figuring out what to throw and when to throw it. If they do, they’re going to be very competitive.

SN: Wieters has all the measureables and had a good rookie season, but what about him stands out to you?
CR: When you first look at him, he’s calm and handles the pitching staff well. He’s a big guy, and he has all the offensive skills that you get excited about out of that position. But he seems to be a smart catcher — one that handles the pitching staff well, and one that you’d be glad to have grow with their young staff. When you look at somebody like Joe Mauer, I think you take for granted some of his defensive skills behind the plate, but I think Matt Wieters is in the same sort of mold as Joe Mauer.

SN: What are your thoughts about Brian Matusz, the young lefty?
CR: The word around baseball about the great young arms — and Brian certainly fits into that — is they have phenomenal stuff. Then it’s a matter of making the pitch at the right time, making the right pitch, and throwing to your game plan and figuring out how to settle into that big league model. Some people can do that really easily. I remember Mike Mussina was somebody who came right into the big leagues and knew what he was doing from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint, and he had success right away. Ben McDonald struggled a little bit, and he had to get his feet on the ground and get more of a game plan before he took off. So, you’re wondering, at least from a makeup standpoint, are they Mussina-types or are they a little more like McDonald-types?

SN:With as many young starters as the Orioles have, they probably have both, right?
CR: Yeah. I’m excited. I think all of baseball is looking at the Orioles’ arms.

SN: Did you have a favorite baseball card as a kid?
CR: I was a big Brooks Robinson fan, and I was also a big Cincinnati Reds fan — maybe because I was a front-runner and they were the Big Red Machine and they competed against the Orioles in the 1970 (World) Series. So I tried to collect the starting lineup for the Reds. And, being around Baltimore, Brooks Robinson was hard to get. I remember getting a lot of Tom Shopay cards, but I finally got a Brooks. I couldn’t tell you where Brooksie is; I think my mom might have thrown it out.

SN:Do you remember the first time you got to meet Brooks?
CR: I do. When my dad first came to the big leagues. I was about 14 or 15 years old, and I had the chance to go down and say hello to Brooksie. He didn’t disappoint; he was as nice of a person as I thought he was. Took all the time in the world for me. I still have yet to find a person in the world who says a negative thing about Brooksie. He was my man.

SN: Have you seen some of the cards in this Topps giveaway?
CR: I’m looking at the 1952 Topps rookie card for Mickey Mantle, and this one, they tell me, in vintage condition went for $250,000. This one I have right here has a couple scrapes on it, and they say it’s worth about 20 grand.

SN: The most expensive card I’ve ever held was worth about $70. What’s it feel like to hold a Mantle rookie card?
CR: Well, it doesn’t feel much different. This Mickey Mantle one is really protected. It’s in a real thick case so I can’t do any damage to it, and it’s tagged. So it doesn’t feel much different than holding my rookie card, which is not worth nearly what Mickey’s is. But, you know, baseball cards are baseball cards. The older ones have some nice color.

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

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