Ripken was always hard worker
Ninth-grade coach looks back on experience with O's legend
BALTIMORE -- Don Morrison remembers the day he first met Cal Ripken Jr.
He saw the 5-foot-6, 128-pound ninth grader for the first time on March 1, 1975, when Aberdeen High School held its first day of baseball practice. Now the director of public relations in Harford County, but then a baseball coach for Aberdeen, Morrison remembers Ripken's worries about not being able to complete the team's requisite mile run in at least 6:30. Morrison remembered Ripken struggling at first and then coming back the following day to make it -- just barely.
But that memory sticks with Morrison about the person he still calls "Calvin." Ripken's single-minded determination to reach his goal never changed. Morrison feels that's a big reason that Ripken accomplished so much in his career, and why his former coach was so proud Tuesday upon hearing the news that his former infielder was elected to the Hall of Fame.
"He deserves it more than anyone I can think of," Morrison said. "What an example he [sets]. What a role model for younger people, to know that you can make it through sheer hard work and determination, and [that] can overcome a lot."
Ripken is still extremely popular in his hometown of Aberdeen for a number of reasons. Some of it has to do with the fact that Ripken built a stadium and placed a Minor League team -- the Aberdeen IronBirds -- there. But more than that, it's the fact that he's seen by so many as the same person he was back in the day.
Joe Stetka also knew Ripken back in his high school days. Stetka, the brother of Bill Stetka, who directs media relations for the Orioles, serves as an official scorer for Ripken's team and has known the family for years.
Like Morrison, Stetka marvels at how Ripken seemingly has been unchanged and unfazed by all that he's achieved.
"Since our days of playing against each other in high school, I couldn't be happier for a guy that means so much to baseball and to his community," said Stetka, who played for nearby Bel Air High. "I'm just very proud of him, and I think it's tremendous."
Stetka said the best thing about Ripken making the Hall of Fame is that it won't change his personality at all.
"He's still the same great guy," Stetka said. "Whether he got in with landslide voting, or he was short a few votes, he would still be the same great guy. I just wish that his dad could be there to see him get into the Hall, but he'll have a front-row seat upstairs, I'm sure."
Ernie Tyler is the Orioles' "baseball guy," the man who sits on a stool and and hands the umpires baseballs during the game. Tyler hasn't missed a game since 1960, and also knew Ripken in his earlier days.
Tyler knew the whole Ripken family, like Stetka, Morrison and so many others, and agreed in a recent interview that everything remains the same.
"He's never changed," said Tyler, who's sons played baseball with Ripken as kids. "I see him over at Ripken Stadium, and he's just like you. You talk to people, and it's not a matter of you talking to an icon, it's just that's what he is. He's the same as he was when he was 14,15 or 20. He's a local kid."
Morrison said that it would have been impossible to predict that a scrawny ninth-grade kid could have made the Major Leagues, much less the Hall of Fame, but that he was very glad to have had the chance to see it.
Morrison, who still talks to and sees Ripken in Harford County, said he'll never forget the well-documented work ethic of a kid who just wanted to get better. It was firmly in place even during Ripken's teenage years.
"The fact [was] that he understood that he was not automatically the best baseball player on the field, and he worked tirelessly, quietly," Morrison said. "There wasn't a whole lot of rah-rah about him. His whole thing was to be better."
He certainly got better. And now he's in the Hall of Fame.
"It's just tremendous," Stetka said. "I know the baseball world and Aberdeen, Md., is just ecstatic. It's extremely nice to know that you know a Hall of Fame player, but he's also a Hall of Fame guy on and off the field."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.