A RECENT visitor to the cozy Aberdeen, Md., home of Cal Ripken
Sr. playfully suggested that the meticulously manicured hedge
needed a trim, that there were a few leaves out of place.
"You're right," Cal Sr. said. "I've got to get on that." Vi,
his wife of 37 years (the last 30 of which have been spent in
this house), laughed and poked fun at her husband. "Sometimes
he'll mow the lawn three times in a week," she said with a wink.
"He invents things to do."
Nearly 10 years ago Cal Sr. predicted that some day he would be
"the greatest retired person, because every day I find something
to do." But retirement came earlier than he had planned when,
six years later, he was fired by the Orioles. Suddenly there
were no more fungoes to hit, no more batting practice to throw
and no more sitting around in his underwear until deep into the
night talking baseball.
"After 36 years in the game [all with the Oriole organization],
you can't help but miss it," Cal Sr. says. "But that doesn't
mean I'm not still alive and kicking. With all the things I've
got to do around here, I don't know how I ever had time to work
for anyone else."
As always, the vegetable garden is thriving. Billy Ripken once
decided to see how many tomatoes he could pick off one plant. He
got 70. Rising to his son's challenge, Cal Sr. got 115. No
visitor leaves the Ripkens' home without some tomatoes, peppers,
squash, zucchini or tomato juice. Years ago Cal Sr. built a new
garage to house his six lawn mowers and three tillers and turned
the old garage into a canning room. (Last year he and Vi made
100 quarts of tomato juice.) If Cal Sr. hadn't had a career in
baseball, he would have been a great farmer--though not a
perfect one. "I once fell asleep on a tractor," he says. "Wiped
out 15 rows of corn."
In the basement that Cal Sr. twice remodeled--his three sons,
Cal Jr., Fred and Billy, slept down there as kids--stands the
model train garden, beautifully detailed by Cal Sr. down to the
white cotton for snow. He has restored an engine that Fred had
when he was three and installed a switch that allows him to run
four engines at once. Now Cal Sr.'s five grandchildren enjoy the
If he isn't building something or working on his yard, Cal Sr.
is usually playing golf, a game he picked up again last fall
after an 18-year layoff. He and Vi, who took up golf less than a
year ago, play three times a week. "Hell no, I don't walk," he
says, openly admitting to use of a golf cart. "I don't play golf
for exercise. I get enough exercise behind that lawn mower."
Cal Sr.'s last link to baseball is a camp he runs two weeks
every summer at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md.
Until he returned to watch Cal Jr. tie and then break Lou
Gehrig's consecutive-game streak, Cal Sr. had not returned to
Camden Yards since the Orioles fired him as third base coach
after the 1992 season. "People [the Oriole front office] didn't
want me down there, so I'm not there," he says. "I saw no reason
to be fired, and they didn't give me a reason."
Still, Cal Sr. and Vi watch almost every Oriole game on TV. "He
watches," says Vi. "He grouses."
Leading up to the festivities surrounding the Streak, Cal Sr.
and Vi were sometimes called on to do as many as three
interviews with the media in a single day. "I don't understand
it," Vi says. "The other day I said to Rip [Cal Sr.], 'Is [Cal
Jr.] this good to warrant this attention?' Rip said, 'If you
can believe it, yes, he's this good.'
"Well, I'm not ready for this," Vi says. "To me, he's still my
boy. I'm not ready for the whole world to take him."
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS TOMATOES ARE THE BUMPER CROP IN ABERDEEN. [Cal Ripken Sr. and Vi Ripken picking tomatoes]