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Cal cops a new gig

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Sports, not politics, will be Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.'s emphasis in his new role as a special envoy for the State Department.

"This isn't a political statement for me, necessarily," Ripken said Monday after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice formally announced his appointment. "This is about the kids and planning baseball and using baseball for good reasons."

Ripken, who set the Major League record for consecutive games played 2,632 games in a row, earning him the nickname "Iron Man" said he was ready for the task, which will take him first to China at the end of October.

The first commissioner of President Bush's White House tee-ball league for youngsters, the former Baltimore Oriole said he would promote teamwork and cross-cultural communication.

Rice, a well-known sports fan, introduced Ripken as a wholesome symbol of America who represents "our aspirations to be a better nation and to help build a better world."

Rice paid tribute to Ripken's record-breaking streak and joked that she expected him to keep up that kind of perseverance, saying, "Cal, I assume that whenever I call you, you're going to be hard at work for America."

Ripken noted he already was on another winning streak.

"Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago and now this honor bestowed upon me by the State (Department), that's a pretty good little run, pretty good little streak," he said.

Ripken is the second "special sports envoy." Figure skating star Michelle Kwan is the other.

The job is an unpaid position for which the government pays only travel expenses.

Ripken, who retired in 2001, laughed when asked about money.

"I was looking for a baseball salary," he said.

"We don't have those in government," chuckled Karen Hughes, the under secretary of state for public affairs with whom Ripken will be working most closely.

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