On the Road: A familiar name in Delmarva

Shorebirds' Ripken working his way through Baltimore system

Ryan Ripken, currently playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds, signed with the Orioles prior to the 2017 season. (Ken Inness, MiLB.com)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | May 10, 2018 10:00 AM

Ryan Ripken, Cal's son, is a first baseman in the Baltimore Orioles organization. With that as his reality, anonymity is an impossibility. 

"Ripken's not a common name. With this name and being in baseball, you really stick out for people. It is what it is," said Ripken, currently hitting .271 over 23 games as a member of the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds. "You grow up with that and you learn to handle it through the years, and it becomes a little more second nature. It took some time to get used to it, though. For sure." 

Ripken, 24, has been immersed in the world of professional baseball his whole life. As Cal's son, Billy's nephew and Cal Sr.'s grandson, how could he not have been?    

2018 Road Trip

"When you're a kid, you know, you look up to your parents," he said. "And my dad, baseball was his job. And I thought that was a normal thing, that a lot of people had the opportunity to do that. And as you get older, you realize that's not the case. I was very fortunate to see a lot of things, a lot of experiences on that level. And did I think that I had any other option to do something? No. At that time you just look at your dad and you go, 'I want to do what he did. I want to play ball.'" 

From a distance, such a childhood seems idyllic. But as Ripken grew older, his privileged status as a Hall of Fame scion began to seem as much a curse as it was blessing. 

"That was one thing for me, especially with the name and everything: I always felt the expectation to act a certain way and do something a certain way," he said. "And I'd always think about what other people would think. 'What if I don't do well? What's the future hold for me?' And I was miserable for such a long time.

"Growing up, as a teenager, it was really hard that everyone expected you to do something well. And that they compared you to your dad at his peak when you're just trying to figure yourself out. And I always incorporated baseball with myself. So, you know, if I wasn't a good baseball player, then maybe I'm not a good person. Am I?" 

But Ripken, a self-described "big guy that has the ability to hit the ball hard and all over the park," was a good baseball player. He was selected out of Florida's Indian River Community College by the Nationals in the 15th round of the 2014 Draft and went on to spend three injury-plagued seasons in the Washington organization. He never really found his footing, and he was released on March 20, 2017. Less than two weeks later, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles.

"I didn't know how I'd feel being with the Orioles, just because of the expectations and pressure. But regardless of where I was, there [were] going to be expectations and pressure," he said. "I was nervous about what I'd feel. Would it be harder or more pressure? It was really the opposite. It's just a testament to the people in this organization for welcoming me in and treating me just like everybody else, and that's the way I want to be treated. I want them to know me as Ryan. However they want to look at the rest of my family members is one thing, but I want them to know me for me." 

Ripken's first assignment within the Baltimore farm system was the Class A Short Season Aberdeen IronBirds. Not only was he playing in the Orioles organization, he was playing for a team owned by his father and named, in part, for Cal's "Ironman" nickname. 

Ripken played for Aberdeen in 2017, appearing in 51 games. (Gordon Donovan, MiLB.com)

"It's funny, I remember opening night there in the inaugural [2002] season. So it comes full circle when you think of it that way," he said. "A lot of my childhood memories were up there, and I have family up there as well on my dad's side, so it was really good to connect with them again and have their support each night." 

Ripken has been a regular presence in the starting lineup for the Class A Shorebirds this season, appearing as a first baseman and designated hitter. 

"I missed a lot of time with injuries when I was with the Nationals, and that's a lot of development time," he said. "Right now, being able to play every day and get that experience, it's great because I don't know how good I can be yet. I do have qualities that I think can help the organization. Hopefully, keep moving up. That's the goal."

For now, Ripken seems to be enjoying himself with Delmarva. The team currently sits atop the standings in the South Atlantic League's Northern Division, having won 21 of its first 32 games. 

"We're a pretty loose group, and we genuinely like each other. When you like each other, you can go out, and baseball doesn't always feel like a job," he said. "It's a game, and you're just going out and playing with your friends."  

Such an atmosphere just may help Ripken come into his own, finally able to shed the "pressures and expectations" that are attached to his instantly recognizable surname.

"I'm super proud of my family and everything they've done. But I want to add my own legacy," he said. "I don't want to be known just as Cal's kid, Billy's nephew and Cal Sr.'s grandson. And baseball comes to an end at some point too, whether it's 20 years, three years, five, however long you play. So, that's another thing I'm trying to get in perspective. 

"But it's all good, you know? I'm getting to do something I love for a living."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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