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Q&A with Cal Ripken Jr.

Kidsday reporters (l) Derek Livingston, Matthew Tracz, Sean

Kidsday reporters (l) Derek Livingston, Matthew Tracz, Sean Meth, and Jacob Katz, 10 and 11, from Port Washington with Cal Ripken Jr. Cal was at the 4 Season's Hotel in Manhattan promoting his latest book "Wild Pitch." (March 5, 2013) Credit: Newsday Pat Mullooly

We met baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. while he was in Manhattan recently. We talked to him about his career and his latest novel, "Wild Pitch."

Are the characters in "Wild Pitch" based on real people in your life and if so, which ones?

The characters' names and the characters that were built around the team are based on some characters that I experienced. Hot Head was me. I had a bad temper when I played shortstop.

Some of the bully issues, I drew on and I put them in the book. In this last case, I remember a pitcher that hit a guy accidentally, and he fell to pieces. He couldn't throw strikes anymore.

Did your confidence level ever drop like Robbie's, or did it rise during your career?

Confidence is a fragile thing. When you're feeling like you're doing well, you're on top of the world, you have confidence, and you feel good about it. But when you start not getting hits, where you start losing your control all of a sudden, you doubt yourself.

Even big leaguers: They'll have their confidence go up and down. And how well you can maintain your confidence and not let it go too far down will determine how successful you are.

What would be your greatest accomplishment: being named Rookie of the Year, being MVP twice, winning the World Series, breaking Lou Gehrig's (consecutive games played) record or being elected into the Hall of Fame?

The World Series was the most gratifying. I think part of the dream when I was your age [is that] I wanted to be a big league player; but also, you want to know how it feels to win the World Series. And having won one, I wish I would have won a whole bunch more.

The other experiences are personal moments, sometimes human moments; being recognized in the Hall of Fame certainly looks at your whole career, and you could feel good about that accomplishment, but the moment that I caught the last out in the World Series, it was almost twice as good a feeling as the other ones.

Was your uniform number 8 lucky for you?

I like to say looking back on it, it was pretty lucky. I felt like I was pretty lucky to play baseball for 21 years and have the career that I had. I didn't pick the number. I came in the big leagues, and I was just happy that I didn't have this number like 97 or something because many young rookies that come in get this gigantic number, which means you don't have any chance to make the club. But for some reason 8 was available, and so I kept 8.

Have you ever thought of making any of your books into a movie?

I like the concept of a movie or a TV series with the characters. I think a lot of people learn through the TV, and bringing these characters alive would be an opportunity to deal with some of the similar issues.

Who was your idol when you were a kid and why?

Brooks Robinson was my idol and he played for the Orioles. He was a gold glove third baseman. I think he has the most gold gloves by a third basemen, and he was a good clutch hitter. And so it was easy to root for him, because he was good but also he was a good person. I think my parents were pointing him out more to me and not only was he a good player but he was a good person.

Who is the hardest pitcher you ever faced?

That's the hardest question ever asked upon me because all the big league guys are very difficult. And the number one guys are more difficult than the guys that win the Cy Young and win all the games.

The very best in the league are difficult, but there was one pitcher by the name of Goose Gossage that pitched for the Yankees that came up. He threw harder than everybody else and he was a little wild up in to right handers.

So psychologically I was a little intimidated by that sort of pitcher. It took me a little while for me to figure him out.

Do you have any tips for performing under pressure?

Yes, performing under pressure is nothing more than calming yourself. Because when you practice and you swing the bat, you know that you can do it. When you want to do it really, really bad in the high pressure situation, bases loaded, and you get uptight and you try harder when you need to really relax.

And so understanding how do you relax in those moments is the key. Keep breathing, relax, see the ball and just put a good swing on it. And trust the fact that your talent will take over. So you don't want to do anything more than you're capable of, but trust your instincts.

And also how do you get out of a slump?

You gain your confidence, in my opinion, by practicing. You gain your confidence in the batting cage, then it translates to the field. And sometimes something can happen in a game where something clicks and then you can build off of that, but mostly you have to understand that you're in a slump and a problem and make some adjustments whatever those adjustments might make.

Sometimes your batting coach or your coach will offer a change in your stance or a change in where you hold your hands for example and that will start to work. So you need to find out some of the small things you can do and once you find out something that feels good and you continue to practice it, so it becomes second nature to you.

So getting out of a slump is usually in the cage or practice.

What inspired you to write books?

I think it's a good way to communicate social issues or sometimes problems that kids don't know how to deal with and the problems that we identified in the book are problems that aren't just for your time as a kid, not just as mine, they're going to be for every time.

Kids with tempers trying to figure out their tempers. Bullying is going to be around. I hope I wish it wouldn't, but kids don't know how to deal with bullying and I think you could deliver a message within a story that's not offensive and it almost seems to be more real when you read it.

Why didn't you write this from the point of view of the player that was hit. Don't you think he might have had a hard time getting into the batter's box again?

Yeah, as I explained earlier it's terrifying to get hit with a ball or it hurts and it affects your ability to go stand in the batter's box. You need courage to stand in the batter's box.

So explaining that would have been good and maybe we'll address a situation or two down the road that has to do with that kind of courage. But I wanted to identify some of the tricks that your mind plays on you from a pitcher's perspective because we all have conscience, we all feel guilty, we all don't play the game to hurt somebody else and accidents do happen.

And in this particular case I liked telling the story from Robbie's perspective. I think it would help a lot more kids, including my own son, my son got hit for the first time, it was in the knee, he was like 8 and he was visibly affected and he was stepping in the bucket a lot, he was not really wanting to get hit again.

So I worked through that with just saying, "Are there other people on the team that get hit more than you?" And they said, "Yes," and I go, "Why do you think that's the case? And he goes, "Because they don't know how to get out of the way of the ball." And I say, "That's true. So you know how to get out of the way of the ball?"

So your best defense is understanding how to get out of the way of the ball. So we changed the focus. That's probably a good lesson to bring into one of the characters at some point.

Whenever you were in a slump did you feel like Robbie from the book and that you let the team down?

Yeah, when you strike out with the bases loaded or you have a big run that you need to get in, it makes you feel like you failed personally, but then all of a sudden you start thinking about it as I'm supposed to get that run in, I feel bad for the team.

Why did you give Ben disabilities and is there a reason you picked losing an arm?

Do you guys remember Jim Abbott, We mention Jim Abbott in the book. He was a lefthanded pitcher and I batted against Jim Abbott, and I was amazed at his determination, his ability to figure out how he could still play the game at the highest level and he was tough to hit off of.

And so sometimes perspective needs to be gained. And bringing in a character that had an accident, that was a good athlete, forced Robbie to kind of think about things differently instead of feeling sorry for himself.

There is always someone out there who has more challenges than you. And I thought that was a good way to bring that into the story and sometimes a new friend can help you more than your parents or your coach. So I wanted to show that in the book as well.

What character do you identify with the most in this book and why?

In this book? I think I identify a lot of traits with all the characters, but again Connor Sullivan, the hothead in the first book, was the one I could relate to the most. It was almost going back in time.

And remembering my conversation that my mom had with me about how to challenge your frustration. Because it was turning into temper and doing temper tantrums and doing wrong things with it and she told me to actually do more positive things with it.

So looking at Connor now, learning how to channel your energy and keeping perspective is probably the closest character that I can relate to. Certainly Robbie's issues with his confidence we all can relate to.

Who would you say was the easiest pitcher?

There are no easy pitchers. Right when you think that the pitchers are easy, that's when you end up that's when you make outs. So I would always give them the utmost respect and try to compete with them. So sure there are other people that have less stuff, but pitching is not all about the good stuff you might have. It's throwing pitches you're not looking for inside or outside, changing pitches. So I don't have a worse pitcher.

Like Robbie in the book, did you ever lose a game on a bad call?

Yes. It feels like you've been cheated in many ways when you know that the decision was wrong and it's easy to get mad and it's easy to feel like it wasn't fair. But then you realize that mistakes were made by the umpires too.

And it's unfair necessarily to put all the blame on that particular play. Because the game could have been won in the first inning if you had done something different or second inning or the third inning. In the big leagues you play nine innings.

And I always tell my son that the game can be won or lost in any of those nine innings. So if you lose a 1-run game in a bad call you might go back and say. "Well, if we would have got that run in the second inning it would have been a different story. If we would have turned that double play. We would have made that play if I didn't make that error."

So you can always find another place and I always thought it was better to look inward to how you could be better as opposed to blaming someone else.

Don't single digit numbers show you that the coaches think you're a better player?

I think you can make that argument. If the high numbers mean that you don't have much chance, lower numbers might mean you have a chance, but I didn't think about it then. I was just happy to get a good number.

Do you think you preferably would have handled the situation the same way as Robbie did?

I was in that situation a couple of times as a kid. And I accidentally hit someone and I remember the coach came out thinking I was going to be visibly upset and I just said, "They don't know how to get out of the way of the ball too well, do they?" It didn't bother me so I don't know why. I do have a conscience and I felt bad when accidents happened.

Things happen but you have to realize it's part of the game. So I guess I would have handled it differently because I did. But I was more concerned with the kids that don't see it that way.

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