The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. The smell of fresh cut grass.
Each year these are the sensations that normally herald the coming of spring, yet for the countless youths enrolled in Rohnert Park’s Cal Ripken program, they arrived late in the first weekend of May. That’s thanks to the unusually wet winter California experienced, which forced Cal-Ripken to postpone their opening day…
All the way until the end of the season.
That’s right. By now, most of the teams enrolled in Cal Ripken will have played their final match. All that’s left for them is the playoffs. Still, opening day or closing day, the tradition has a grandeur of its own: families from all across the community descended upon Benicia Park to barbeque, play baseball and welcome the onset of summer.
“This is my fourth season. I’ve got an eight-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I expect to be with [Cal Ripken] for the next decade or so,” volunteer coach David Collins said. “I grew up in a military family, so we moved every three years. But now, living here, I see a lot of these people grow up playing here; now they’ve got their own family.”
One of the principal attractions for the event was an exhibition match between Cal Ripken alumni drawn from all across its 30-year history. Most of the players were now late in their thirties or forties, bearing beer guts and tattoos—a far cry from the fresh-faced boys that ran laughing through the stands in the uniforms of today.
Still, though the grizzled old men bore the scars of age, they played with skill and confidence. The game was Blue on Red and ended with Blue victory, but neither side seemed to take it too seriously; the match was more of a chance to get some exercise and relive, if only for a day, the august years of their youth.
“I played peewee when I was four, so that was like 1987. I went all the way up to majors,” exhibitions player Andrew Zarnoch said. “I know some of these people. Back then I was chubby little kid, but now I own a gym. Things have changed.”
While for some Cal Ripken’s opening day provided a nice a nice chance to reminisce, for others it served as an introduction to the community of Rohnert Park. The Tubbs Fire back in 2017 shook up the population of Sonoma County, bringing many new faces into the city. Faces like, Ruthie Richardson, whose son, Brayden Richardson, is participating in Cal Ripken for the first time.
The Richardsons actually live in Santa Rosa. Brayden hasn’t had to leave his school or his friends behind, but they’ve chosen to commute to Rohnert Park for its excellent Cal-Ripken program and sense of family the city exudes.
“They always say Rohnert Park is the friendly city. It’s a little tighter, a little smaller. It’s nice. Cozy,” Richardson said. “We get the best of both worlds, essentially.”
All the next week the Cal Ripken teams will hash out playoff preliminaries, eventually culminating in their End of the Year Potluck May 19th.
And after that? Well, the Junior Giants program will return to the city June 11. Signups are ongoing and space is limited. If you’d like to sign your child up, you can do so at gojrgiants.org.