From Baseball to Books

Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. talks about his latest novel for kids

Mar 17, 2014 | By TFK Kid Reporter Raymond Baartmans

Former Baltimore Oriole and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. writes sports books for kids.

Former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. was a legend on the baseball field. During his career, he played a record 2,632 consecutive games and was a nineteen-time All-Star and two-time American League Most Valuable Player. Ripken was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 with the most votes in history. In recent years, he has turned to writing. He has published numerous books, including his bestselling autobiography The Only Way I Know and the Cal Ripken Jr.’s All-Stars series of novels for kids. Squeeze Play, the fourth novel in the series, was published this month.   

Kid Reporter Raymond Baartmans poses with Cal Ripken Jr. memorabilia.
COURTESY JILL GROSMAN
Kid Reporter Raymond Baartmans poses with Cal Ripken Jr. memorabilia.

TFK Kid Reporter Raymond Baartmans had a chance to talk to Ripken about his latest work.

TFK:

What inspired you to start writing books?

CAL RIPKEN JR.:

As a baseball player, I always liked the opportunity to communicate messages to kids because I remember how influential ball players were to me, and a book is a good way to highlight some tough problems you can face while growing up. And I love the format of a book—it’s a way to communicate issues that kids can learn from.

TFK:

Did you like writing when you were a kid?

RIPKEN:

I always enjoyed writing. Putting things on paper promotes more thoughts, so I’ve always liked communicating through writing.

TFK:

What did it feel like when you published your first book?

Cal Ripkin Jr.'s new book is Squeeze Play.
DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS
Cal Ripkin Jr.'s new book is Squeeze Play.

RIPKEN:

It’s similar to when I got my first hit: There’s a sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment.

TFK:

How did you and co-author Kevin Cowherd start working together on the Cal Ripken Jr.’s All Stars series?

RIPKEN:

I knew Kevin Cowherd from the days when he was a sportswriter and he was always very good. When the publisher recommended we look at a list of some writers for me to work with, Kevin’s name was on that list. He’s a fantastic writer and really helps bring the characters to life.

TFK:

Which book in the series was the most difficult to write, and why?

RIPKEN:

I think the first one, Hothead. It was serious because it was based on a lot of my own personal experiences. I had a bad temper when I was a kid and needed to learn how to deal with that. Remembering how my coaches and parents helped me deal with it, in some ways it was a little embarrassing and painful to go back and think about. But I knew that some kids had those same feelings, so I wanted to make sure I dealt with it. That one was hard, on an emotional and personal level.

TFK:

In your new book, Squeeze Play, the lead character Corey Maduro faces many challenges during a baseball tournament. Did you have to overcome any big challenges in your career? 

RIPKEN:

There are always challenges when you’re dealing with other people’s opinions or when you’re in a slump. You might be a very good player, but when you’ve got a lot of distractions or you’re in a slump in general, you have to figure out how to clear your mind. I think everyone faces these kinds of issues.

TFK:

In Squeeze Play, I liked how Corey played his best when he was having fun. What words of advice can you give to kids, and even parents, about keeping sports fun?

RIPKEN:

That’s a really good question because it’s easier said than done. I regularly tell parents to try to teach the kids, but be aware of ways to relieve the pressure on them. Examining the game on the ride home in the car is probably the worst thing you can do, because the emotions are still running high and you are not going to accomplish anything if you’re not constructive. So I always say, “Don’t have the post-game conversation in the car—let everybody absorb it, and maybe a little later, or the next day, you might address it in a more organized fashion.”

TFK:

What's the main thing you want readers to get out of reading Squeeze Play?

RIPKEN:

I guess just the realization of the environment in which kids play. Parents in general want the best for the kids, they support them in the best way they can. The main problem is when they overdo it—they just put too much pressure on the kids. So I hope many parents will start to look at themselves, and kids will start to look at their parents, and maybe they will have a conversation so that on the field, the kids don’t feel too uptight.

TFK:

What advice do you have for young people who want to become athletes and writers?

RIPKEN:

Both involve discipline and work. In order to be good at something, it takes a lot of practice. We know in athletics that the more you swing a bat and field ground balls, the better you will be. But writing requires hard work of another kind. Writing requires putting it down, looking at it, editing it, and reworking it to make it good. If you want to be good at something, you have to work at it and put your time in, and you will eventually get better at it.