Cal Ripken Jr

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Cal Ripken Jr. believes MLB players can adjust to a season without a clubhouse

Cal Ripken Jr. believes MLB players can adjust to a season without a clubhouse

As Major League Baseball continues to work toward putting a plan in place to begin the 2020 season amidst the coronavirus pandemic, there are still plenty of hurdles in the way. One of the largest is the safety of the players. 

Even if teams only play games against nearby opponents in empty stadiums, other precautions will still need to be taken. Though the actual setting of the field itself may be fine, there are other parts of the game-day routine that may create more health risks.

Clubhouses are one of the threats to player safety as it would create an enclosed environment in which players are close to one another. If Major League Baseball is going to have a season, clubhouses may not be a part of it.

Hall-of-Famer and Orioles' great Cal Ripken Jr. believes the players would be able to work through a season without clubhouses, if that is how MLB proceeds. Though he sees it as a challenge, Ripken doesn't believe it will be much of a block for the players.

“I think everyone will adjust," Ripken told the Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday.

Ripken did admit that throughout his 21-year career, the clubhouse did have its benefits. After games, they could get together and discuss things that went wrong and work to be better when they took the field the next day.

However, though he rarely ventures into clubhouses anymore, he mentioned that when he does a good amount of players are out of there rather quickly. Ripken doesn't see that as a flaw, though, he made sure to note that the bulk of a team's chemistry doesn't come from moments near the lockers, but rather during tense moments in a game. 

“All those things can be worked around because the real competition starts when you’re facing the pitcher on the mound and you get in the situations and try to win a game," Ripken said. “I think all of the natural instincts of all the athletes kick in at such a high level. Where it’s not that they’re blocking out any fan participation -- there’s nothing like having that element, that environment. That’s the difference of playing in the minor leagues a lot of times in front of hardly anybody and then come to the big leagues, you’ve got to make an adjustment to that level. But, I think everyone will adjust.”

"To me, chemistry and comradery is built out there on the field. It’s built with your successes in the eighth inning, executing a bunt play, holding a guy on, throwing a guy out stealing, preserving a win with a double play," he added. "I think all those confidences are made mostly out on the field. But it’ll be different, but I think everybody will respond to the challenge put before them.”

Besides chemistry, Ripken also thinks players can still find success in a world where their routine becomes showing up to the ballpark right before the first pitch. The former shortstop has even seen it first-hand during his time with the Orioles. 

His teammate Brady Anderson had some interesting pregame rituals that included arriving at the ballpark with little time to spare. While unconventional, it helped Anderson put together impressive seasons that included a campaign with 50 home runs.

“He wanted to time it just perfectly, so he would roller blade over in his uniform with sweats over top. He would go down the lading dock tunnel, come out the groundskeeping side with roller blades on. Kick them off, velcro, put spikes on, that way he could maximize his time at home," Ripken said. "But he made a grand entrance to stretching quite a few times.” 

It's hard to envision any current players taking a page out of Anderson's playbook and rollerblading right onto the field. However, no matter how they arrive at the ballpark and where they are allowed to spend the time before and after a game, Ripken believes adjustments will be made. 

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Cal Ripken Jr. recalls the Orioles' 1988 return home after 1-23 start and meeting the 'Kissing Bandit'

Cal Ripken Jr. recalls the Orioles' 1988 return home after 1-23 start and meeting the 'Kissing Bandit'

The 1988 season started with a historically bad 1-23 record for the Baltimore Orioles, and the team was set to return home to play the Texas Rangers. 

Even with the worst start to a season in modern history, 50,402 fans packed Memorial Stadium to support the Orioles on May 2. 

Cal Ripken Jr. reminisced about that night for a number of reasons in a Twitter video posted Saturday, the 32nd anniversary of that date. Not only were the Orioles welcomed with a sellout crowd, but Ripken also hit a homerun and received a kiss from Morganna, the notorious "Kissing Bandit" that caught the sports world by storm.

That year was especially odd for Ripken as he saw the Orioles fire his father as their manager after an 0-6 start to the season. Baltimore replaced the elder Ripken with Frank Robinson, a former Oriole himself. 

But the managerial change didn't trigger a difference in results. Robinson was at the helm as the Orioles lost their next 15 games to fall to a woeful 0-21 on the season. 

Finally, on the 10th game of a 12-game road trip, Baltimore etched its first mark in the win column with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox. 

Baltimore dropped the next two games to fall 15.5 games back of the division lead as the calendar turned to May and the team returned home.

"Basically, the season feels like it's over at that point. You've started way behind," Ripken said in the video. "But our fans were so great that they came out in 50,000 strong."

Ripken laced a home run in that game, and the Orioles won their second game of the season with a 9-4 win over the Rangers in front of the Memorial Stadium crowd.

Among the sellout crowd was Morganna, otherwise known as "Kissing Bandit." And she made the night memorable for yet another reason. From 1970 to 1990, Morganna Roberts crashed sporting events to kiss athletes. Her targets included Johnny Bench, George Brett and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among a host of others. 

On that night, she had her sights set on Ripken. 

"The 'Kissing Bandit' came out of the stands that time while I was at home plate, and I was her target," Ripken said. "My first instinct was to run. And I felt that I'd be embarrassed if I ran around and had her chase me around, so I just stayed at home plate. She came up and kissed me, and then ran back off the field."

It was an all-around memorable night for those 1988 Orioles during an otherwise dreadful 54-101 season.

"So the 'Kissing Bandit,' a home run and our second win of the season were highlights for that date," Ripken said. 

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Cal Ripken Jr. recalls how he used to deal with sign-stealers

Cal Ripken Jr. recalls how he used to deal with sign-stealers

Before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season, the main storyline across Major League Baseball was the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. 

There was a widespread rage aimed at players like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa for their involvement — and lack of punishment — in a sign-stealing scheme involving a camera in center field feeding a catcher's signals to Houston's clubhouse in real-time, which would then be relayed to the batter before the pitcher delivered. 

Sign-stealing in baseball is nearly as old as the game itself, but introducing technology into the equation gave the Astros an unfair advantage that helped them win a World Series in 2017. Before, baserunners on second base would look at the catcher's signs and try to deliver them to the batter if they could figure it out. 

It wasn't a perfect system by any means, especially compared to the Astros, but on some occasions, it would work out for the hitter. Shortstops like Cal Ripken Jr., who noticed a baserunner trying to steal signs, had his own form of sign-stealing justice. 

"In a really harsh way, you tell the pitcher to put down a curveball, the guy on second tells the hitter that a curveball's coming, and then you throw a pitch [at the batter's head]," Ripken said on The Takeout podcast with CBS' Major Garrett. "And I'll tell you that you break the trust between that sign-stealing scheme that's going on with the hitter." 

Nothing sends a message like a 90+ mph fastball headed straight for your head. 

Still, almost by baseball fan alive would rather deal with the Astros' mess than live in a world without baseball. MLB has not yet returned from its delay, though commissioner Rob Manfred has said on multiple occasions he expects baseball to return in 2020

Once the game returns, Ripken believes it'll have a calming effect on the public and serve as a means of escape from the challenges of everyday life during a global pandemic. 

“I think the big thing is, they just want to get back and provide people with the chance to escape or look at something in an entertaining sort of way,” Ripken said. “It makes them feel good, it makes them feel comfortable.”

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