The days are getting longer and the weather’s getting warmer, and there are few things more synonymous with spring than baseball; that’s why much of Rohnert Park’s youth are preparing themselves for the Cal Ripken Opening Day.
According to the Cal Ripken website their opening day technically falls on Sun. March 31, but it’ll be more of a full weekend affair. A whole 23 games will take place at parks all across the city Sat., followed the next day by team photos and the yearly Cal Ripken Hit-a-Thon. It’ll be more baseball than a kid can shake a stick at--or bat, as it were.
For many of the children, this year will be their first year playing baseball. Cal Ripken serves as the initial introduction to team sports for countless young athletes in Rohnert Park and Cotati, and for volunteers like Bruce Rhode, coach of the AA Red Sox, that’s the reason why they do it. “I keep coming back mainly for the kids, but also for myself,” Rhode said. “Coaching can be challenging, but I get a lot out of it. I have to motivate the player that has the least amount of experience as well as motivate the all-star caliber kid. Those are wonderful challenges that I embrace. I enjoy coaching. Period.”
And the AA Red Sox have already hit the ground running. They’ve been practicing, like many of the other Cal Ripken teams, since the early days of Feb. and are eager to put their skills to the test. Last Sat., March 16, they went up against the AA Blue Jays and squeaked out a 14-10 victory in the team’s first and only game of the season.
Yet winning isn’t really the point when it comes to youth baseball. No, the point, as Rhodes put it, is to teach the kids the twin values of cooperation and perseverance.
“Youth sports is a great learning opportunity for these kids to develop life skills. They get to learn how to learn how to overcome adversity, teamwork, commitment--how to work with others for a common goal. They learn how to win and how to lose,” Rhode said.
Overcoming adversity is a lesson with which some are intimately familiar.
People like Monique Walker, parent of AA Red Sox player Jacob Walker, who lost their house to the Tubbs Fire and are in the process of rebuilding. They’ve moved, temporarily, to Rohnert Park while the contractors and insurance companies wrestle over the rebuilding process. It hasn’t been easy. Cal Ripken has served as an introduction of sorts for the Walkers to the twin communities of Rohnert Park and Cotati.
And, according to Monique, despite this being Jacob’s first year with Cal Ripken, he’s taken to baseball remarkably fast.
“The coach has been giving [Jacob] homework so he’ll go into the kitchen and he’ll get a towel and start doing these movements like he’s hitting it with a bat. I ask him what he’s doing, and he says, ‘I’m working on my homework’,” Monique said. “I just wish he’d work on his real homework that quickly.”