This entry was posted on Sunday, July 29th, 2007 at 3:57 am and is filed under Baseball. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Cal Ripken, Jr., The IronMan of baseball, spent his career thrilling fans of all ages with his play on the field, culminating with his induction this weekend in baseball’s ultimate shrine.

He continues to inspire fans of all ages with his commitment outside the baselines.

I had the honor and privilege of working with Mr. Ripken at a recent fundraising event. He spent over three hours with honored guests, corporate “big wigs” and an eager crowd. He posed for pictures and chatted with admirers during two private receptions and then inspired the crowd with stories about commitment, instilled in him growing up with his famous baseball family.

My guess is Mr. Ripken could command appearance fees similar to those of the highest paid celebrities. Instead he is committed to saving organizations’ money by charging nothing so they, in turn, can spend it on those that matter most – the people they serve.

We have heard stories about how he never refuses an autograph and unlike today’s athletes will sign anything you give him, regardless of the price on Ebay the next day. He was well-known for staying after ballgames for hours signing things for fans. He was and is completely committed (there’s that word again) to his fans, the people who in his mind helped mold him into the superstar that he was on the field and if you ask him, more importantly, the ambassador he now is off of it.

My favorite moment of the night reveals just what kind of man he is. It didn’t involve a baseball or autograph story. It won’t be told on ESPN and wasn’t caught on camera. It’s a story that only I can tell.

During the honoree reception Mr. Ripken was introduced to the Special Olympics Delaware athlete of the year, a 53 year-old woman in a wheelchair. Without hesitation, he knelt down (not bent over, but on his knees) and spent several minutes chatting with her as if they were old friends. The amazing part of this conversation is that it was one way – the woman does not verbally communicate. This scene took place around a small crowd of honorees and their families with flashbulbs twinkling and to some, it probably seemed that he was just acting the part.

Later in the evening I stood in the back of the audience with him awaiting his introduction as the keynote speaker. As the athlete of the year was introduced and received her award a voice-replicated acceptance speech was played for the crowd. They were her words, just spoken through a communication device. A huge smile spread across the IronMan’s face. It was a gesture nobody else saw through the dark shadows in the rear of the auditorium. I saw it ~ and I’ll never forget it.

That little facial twitch spoke volumes about this larger than life superstar.

A friend of mine asked me the next morning if he really was “as down to earth and great a man as you always read and hear about.” My response was simple, “Cal Ripken, Jr. is all of that and more.”

Jon Buzby’s columns appear in newspapers and magazines around the country as well as numerous websites. He is also a frequent public speaker and has written two books. He can be contacted through his website at www.jonbuzby.com.

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