The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation celebrated the opening of its 100th youth development park in the nation on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
Approximately 100 people gathered to cut the ribbon for BGE Field at Reedbird Park, presented by Kelly Benefits, a $3-million, 83,000-square-foot waterfront turf field in the south Baltimore neighborhood of Cherry Hill.
The milestone is significant for Baltimore. Cal Ripken Jr. made his name in the city as a Major League Baseball hall of famer for more than two decades with the Baltimore Orioles.
The first-ever field built by the Ripken Foundation—Memorial Field at the Y in Baltimore—which opened more than a decade ago in 2010.
“To mark field 100—to put this banner up for 100 at this site—is pretty special,” says Bill Ripken, a 12-year MLB veteran and Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation co-founder.
The Reedbird Park field is the 16th park the foundation established in Maryland and the 13th in Baltimore.
Over the past 12 years, more than $113 million has gone back into communities across the country through the youth development park initiative.
The goal is to reach underserved communities through sports. Each field offers an opportunity to reach children through sports-themed and educational activities, with incorporated youth development curriculum with the help of program partners and law enforcement mentors.
Cherry Hill’s new field follows a number of investments in the south Baltimore community which has been historically underserved in Baltimore.
“Everyone knows that President Biden is visiting Baltimore today, but this is the highlight of my day,” says Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott.
Back in the ’90s when he was growing up, he remembers the neighborhood as “forgotten.”
“Unless you knew someone who lived here, you didn’t come, and the city sure didn’t come to invest,” he says, adding that this mindset has changed. The youth development park is part of a multifaceted investment in the area, including the 35,000-square-foot Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center opening next spring.
Both are part of the Reimagine Middle Branch initiative, designed to reconnect South Baltimore to its 11 miles of shoreline along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
The initiative is funded and led by the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, the Parks & People Foundation and Baltimore City.
“When you talk about transformation, this is an example of transformation,” says Reginald Moore, executive director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks.
With three additional natural grass fields, an outdoor basketball court and a pavilion among other projects in the works for the site, this venue will be the first sports complex in Baltimore that can host multiple competitions at the same time, Moore says.
Cal Ripken Jr. says it’s one of the most comprehensive undertakings surrounding one of his youth development parks that he’s aware of, and it will only allow for more opportunities to reach children with their programs.
That idea was the inspiration behind building fields to begin with, he says.
The foundation was established 20 years ago to honor his father, who had a passion for serving children, and he and his brother, Bill Ripken, had been providing programming to youth ever since.
When someone first suggested building fields, he realized how beneficial it would be for children to have a safe space in their communities to host these programs.
What started with one field that took five years to build soon turned to a goal of 50 fields in five years, thanks to Sen. Frank Kelly, foundation board member and chairman of Kelly Benefits.
Kelly was then-president of the foundation when he suggested it.
“I thought Cal was going to fall over,” he says. “We went out to dinner that night. He said, ‘We didn’t even discuss that.'”
Since its inception, the foundation has served more than 10 million youth—and more than 1.2 million in 2020 alone, but it’s not about the numbers, Bill Ripken says.
“If we can save one kid, or reach one kid in one location, I think this whole celebration is certainly worth it,” he says.