In 1994, Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper and her family attended a Baltimore Orioles game. But it wasn’t just any game. It was the game in which the legendary Cal Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s 56-year old record for most consecutive games played with 2,130. (Ripken went on to play 502 more consecutive games.)
Cooper recalls that the outpouring of affection for Ripken that evening was incredible. Everyone was chanting “Cal, Cal, Cal, Cal!” In the stands was two-year-old Cal Cooper, Mary-Beth’s son, running around Camden Yards thinking people were cheering for him.
Two years earlier, Cooper and her husband Dave were unsure what to name their son. That’s when her nephew suggested the name Cal. As an Orioles fan who grew up in Baltimore, it was the perfect fit. Ripken was the face of Baltimore. He was not only one of the best players in baseball, but one of the best role models.
“He was a wonderful person to name your son after. He’s done great things, and he continues to do great things. I always admired how committed Ripken was to literacy and families and young kids,” Cooper said. “I loved how he stayed after games and signed autographs until the ballpark lights went out.”
Cal Cooper eventually was lucky enough to get one of those autographs. The baseball that was signed read, “To Cal, nice name. -Cal.”
Despite the prior connections with Ripken, something happened that was completely unforeseeable. President Cooper had no idea that 24 years later, she would be working for Springfield College with The Cal Ripken Foundation to revolutionize Berry-Allen Field, the baseball field at Springfield, into a one-of-a-kind intercollegiate and adaptive baseball park. This past Monday, Cooper, Ripken, and foundation board chair Mark Butler signed the partnership agreement during the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation board meeting at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.
The adaptive field is expected to benefit youth athletes from the Miracle League, Special Olympics, and local baseball programs.
“In addition to providing a first class facility for our student-athletes, the multipurpose, synthetic-turf field and facility will be a lab for our students and faculty in rehabilitation studies,” Springfield Athletic Director Craig Poisson told the college. “It will also be a venue at which our sport management students can earn valuable experience and leadership skills running community events and tournaments.”
Cooper and Poisson pondered different organizations to partner with to make this field become a reality. The Ripken Foundation was the perfect fit. Through research of the foundation, Cooper and Poisson found that the values of Springfield College and the foundation are nearly identical. That’s where the adaptive field comes into play. The turf is more dense on the right side of field to accommodate wheelchairs. The dugouts will be adapted so that the players can easily roll into the dugouts and come right out and play.
The denser turf will not be visually different, but players will be able to feel it. The collegiate baseball team will also have an added home-field advantage, as they’ll know how to play it. “I’m all for a competitive edge,” Cooper said with a laugh.
The Cal Ripken Foundation has contributed to building nearly 50 youth baseball parks. However, Springfield College will be the home of the foundation’s first collegiate field.
“When I came here, it was the only field untouched,” Cooper said. “When I looked at all the beautiful fields we have, Stagg and Blake Arena, it was obvious that the most-in-need field was baseball. Then we had to decide what it was that the field needed. Was it turf, was it lights, was it a press box, was it everything? Turns out it was everything.”
Cooper described the field as “a win-win” for everyone. The baseball team gets a new field. The community has an adaptive field that it can utilize. The college and the Ripken Foundation continue to build relationships.
Earlier this year, Springfield College Athletics signed a deal with Under Armour that geared all student athletes with Under Armour jerseys. Ironically enough, Under Armour and the Ripken Foundation have a great relationship. Under Armour works closely with the Baltimore community, working to improve areas of the city.
“We’re aligning partnerships that have affiliations with us and also do good things for the community,” Cooper said. “Having partnerships with organizations with similar values really benefits the college.”
“This opportunity is really going to elevate us and I was able to tell a lot of important people in Washington D.C. about this unique place that is Springfield College,” Cooper said.
Renovations for the field are set to begin on April 24, 2017. The question then becomes what will the baseball team do while the field is being renovated? Poisson is working diligently to schedule the team’s home in the early part of the season so that away games can be played during the construction.
“It’ll be temporarily inconvenient for the team,” Cooper said. “But the payoff will be well worth it when the field is completed.”
Members of the baseball team are can’t wait for the opportunity to play on this new field.
“I am thrilled that the team is getting a new field,” junior infielder Mark Joao said. “I think it is something that we were hoping was going to happen for a while. I think the field is going to really help revitalize the team. It is something that we are all very excited about and hopefully it will bring some more energy to the team.”
Greg can be reached on Twitter at @GregAllen20