BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Bridgeport kids got a chance to play with Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. on Thursday on one of three new fields gifted to the city by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation .
The former Baltimore Oriole played a round of Quickball with the kids as he and city official celebrated the opening of the new synthetic turf baseball diamonds at Florence E. Blackham School on Thorme Street.
Ripken created the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in honor of his father to build safe places in distressed communities where kids can play baseball and softball. Since 2001, the foundation has built 48 fields across the country, including a total of nine in Bridgeport.
Ripken said that after retiring from baseball in 2001 he wanted to find a way to help kids through baseball programs. He said that in addition to learning the fundamental skills of the game, there are many other lessons that kids can learn on a baseball field.
“In baseball, if you look at it, nobody helps you when you’re at the plate. Nobody helps you when you’re on the mound. There’s an individual part of baseball that you have to deal with, but you have to put that individual component together with a team,” Ripken said. “I love that aspect of sports in general of teaching you how to work together as a unit, and that’s a skill and a value you can carry with you the rest of your life.”
“Because of Cal’s commitment, going all over the United States, talking about giving back to the community, that’s perhaps the most important lesson they’re going to learn, is giving back to your community,” said Mayor Bill Finch. “This guy made it big, everybody knows his name, but he’s here on Thorme Street in Bridgeport because he knows he has to give back, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
The fields include a digital scoreboard, backstop and dugouts, and are designed to be low maintenance and environmentally friendly. One of the new fields is a barrier-free adaptive field to allow kids with special needs the opportunity to play.
“In many ways we’ve discovered that these fields can be transformational to many communities,” Ripken said. “They receive the field very nicely, they protect the fields and they keep it a safe place for kids to learn the lessons we want them to learn.”
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