- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

MIAMI — About 10 miles south of here on I-95, the place where Miami's true baseball tradition resides is being torn down to make way for a low-income housing complex.

Bobby Maduro Stadium formerly known as Miami Stadium was the second home for the Baltimore Orioles for 31 years of spring training from 1959 to 1990. That means it was also a second home of sorts for Cal Ripken, which made this stop in Miami on the Cal Ripken farewell tour mean a little more to the future Hall of Famer than most places.

After all, this is where Cal Ripken's baseball career almost ended before it began. The future Iron Man was almost done in by a game of checkers.

Ripken spent an entire summer in Miami in 1967 while his father, Cal Sr., was managing the Miami Marlins, an Orioles minor league affiliate. It was a wild summer, Ripken recalled yesterday while sitting in the dugout before the opening game of a three-game series against the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium. Of course, the Marlins drew a crowd of 25,285 about 8,000 more than their average home attendance as many Floridians were on hand to get a last look at Cal Ripken.

"We had all kinds of weird things happen to us that summer," Ripken said. "A coconut fell on my sister. Billy got hit with a bat and got nine stitches above his eye. My brother Fred climbed out a window and jumped off the roof."

Cal's mishap came while he was teaching a young girl how to play checkers. "I was seven at the time, and I was teaching this Spanish girl who didn't know much English how to play checkers. I set up a five-jump move for myself to end the game to make it exciting. When I did it, I threw my head back to laugh and cracked my head on a concrete windowsill. I had to go to the emergency room and get stitched up."

It is those kind of memories of Ripken family life that make this farewell tour stop different from the others. Those memories were framed and displayed for Ripken yesterday in a pregame ceremony by the Marlins, who presented Ripken with a framed photo of that 1967 Marlins team that Cal Sr. managed. That team included a young Terry Crowley, now the Orioles hitting coach, and a young pitcher named Jim Palmer, who was in the broadcast booth at Pro Player Stadium yesterday.

Also in the same frame was a blown-up close up photo of Cal Sr. from that year. It would be hard to tell apart the father then and the son now.

The Miami-Ripken-Orioles connections are many. Ripken played on Baltimore's 1979 Class A affiliate, the Miami Orioles. Ripken also received a framed photo of that team from the Marlins. His memories of that year are hardly a testament to Miami as a baseball town. "We didn't draw too many people that year," Ripken said. "You could count maybe on one or two hands how many people were in the stands."

It was a tough draw: Class A ball in a run-down stadium (built in 1949) in a rough part of town. But spring training would still bring the crowds out, especially when the Yankees would come down from Fort Lauderdale to play the Orioles. Ripken talked about his first spring training with the major league team in 1981 in Miami.

"I came out of Double-A that year and was invited to spring training as a 40-man roster guy," Ripken recalled. "I got to play a few innings early in spring training, but once they started pushing the starters out there for seven or eight innings, I was sent out on the first cut.

"It was an exciting time," Ripken said. "There was a lot of charm and character in that stadium, and it was always exciting when the Yankees would come down to play. And I thought it I was pretty cool to play for the Orioles in the same stadium that I used to hang around when I was 7 years old."

He would go on to play in nine other springs in Miami before the Orioles left and began their vagabond search for a new spring training home. They split time between Sarasota and St. Petersburg. (Actually, they were forced to play their entire exhibition schedule on the road in 1991 and 1995, when they were limited to Sarasota alone). But since 1996 they have been just up the road in Fort Lauderdale at the old Yankees ballpark. The plans are for the Orioles to move further away from Miami to a new spring training facility in West Palm Beach.

The Marlins may not be far behind, as their efforts to build a new ballpark have met with repeated defeats.

If the Marlins leave, the fondest memories of baseball in Miami may be buried with that rickety old ballpark on Northwest 10th Avenue and 23rd Street, a place where such great players as Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and yes, Cal Ripken, once played baseball every spring.

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