Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Trentonian TV Production Notes: Bill Ripken interview

TRENTON -- Bill Ripken had more hits in Friday's 36-minute Trentonian TV interview than he did during his 12-year Major League career. He slapped my arm 13 times -- twice in rapid succession -- which is better than any hit streak he had with the Orioles, Rangers, Indians or Tigers. He was only 661 slaps away from matching his career total. Slow down there, dude.

All kidding aside, Ripken provided a great interview on Trentonian TV. He's got a chalky, scratchy voice, kind of like Macy Gray gargling on a Snickers bar, and is honest, insightful and funny. More importantly, the conversation went well because Paul Mickle was the one steering it like the ol' war horse he is.

And that's what I overlooked Friday, forgetting the fact Mickle is an interviewer's interviewer. I asked Dan Toto to join the interview, too, because few people I know chew on baseball like Toto does. He could be a high-level coach. His Titan Academy travel teams have won several tournaments and something like 83% of their games against elite competition the last 4 years. His crazy energy would have added zest to the Ripken interview. But, I overstepped my bounds by asking Toto to help interview Ripken, and even Toto knew that, which is why he texted me 4:30 to say he wasn't coming, that this was Mickle's gig. And he was right. Mickle is an even bigger nut about baseball than Toto is.

And on that note, Mickle's newspaper career is Cal Ripkenesque. He's an Iron Horse journalist, Mr. Consistent for days, weeks, months, years and decades, 9 innings of energy and then some, the story-making shortstop of The Trentonian newsroom, which is to say the strength up the middle for as long as anyone can remember. Mickle is a journalism Hall of Famer. There will be a day when Paul Mickle isn't in the starting lineup at The Trentonian, and that will be a jolting day in journalism, akin to the Orioles trotting out their lineup for the first time after Cal Ripken Jr. hung 'em up.

Do you want to know who Paul Mickle is?

That's Mickle, hopping fences to track down stories, like he did here at 6 o'clock one night in '95 -- the year Cal Ripken Jr. broke Gehrig's consecutive games streak (2,130). Yep, that's Mickle, in his 40's, hustling with more vigor than reporters half his age. If ever there was a Cal Ripken of journalism -- heart, soul, brains and talent -- it's Paul Mickle.

So this was Mickle's gig, the same way it was Cal Ripken's team, even in his waning years.

Ripken was in town for a Hamilton youth baseball coach clinic at 200 Whitehorse Road. He called it an "info swap" -- passing his "tried and true" techniques onto Hamilton's coaches, who then would transfer the knowledge to their players. The Hamilton A's bring 37 teams down to Ripken's tournament facility in Aberdeen, Maryland. The Aberdeen Tournaments are so popular that there are waiting lists for every age bracket. Last year, some 1,400 teams played in tournaments at almost $1,000 a pop.

Ripken also talked about his infamous 1989 baseball card -- "there was no ill-intention, it was just clubhouse humor" -- spent a lot of time reminiscing about his late dad, former Orioles skipper Cal Ripken Sr., and what it was like growing up on minor- and major-league fields all over America, including Aberdeen, South Dakota (Eddie Watt, Mark Belanger and Jim Palmer were on a team there). Ripken also paid homage to his mom, who drove the family's Buick Electra 225 to and fro. Mickle knew exactly what Ripken meant when he mentioned the Electra 225. Ripken said smaller kids should keep working on their skills and following their dreams, using Major League shorties such as Freddie Patek and MVP Dustin Pedroia, Bucks County's Joe McEwing and World Series MVP David Eckstein as examples of being small but great. You don't need to be a 5-tool player, Bill Ripken said; "the heart and the brain" are the only tools a player needs to succeed. He talked about why the Orioles continue to be a bottom-feeder after being one of MLB's great outfits for decades. One of the reasons, he said, is that the O's have to play the Red Sox, Yankees, Jays and Rays 72 times. But beyond that, the Orioles stink because the organization has done a poor job drafting and worse job developing what talent it does have on the farm. Ripken ripped the Red Sox for making a "scapegoat" out of manager Tito Francona, who led them to 2 World Series titles in 4 years after an 86-year drought. He said the "beer and chicken" stories that emerged after last season's Soxian collapse were BS because beer and chicken are as much a part of baseball as double plays and doubleheaders. It wasn't about the beer and chicken, Ripken said. Maybe it was a matter of having "the right people on the team." Then he picked the Red Sox to win the East in 2012.

From a production point of view, I did a decent job calling up pictures of the Ripkens -- be it Bill's cards or shots of Bill and Cal or Sports Illustrated covers of Bill and the Cals -- and for the first time I played YouTube videos in the screen-in-screen after figuring out how to avoid massive audio problems, so that's an exciting new territory for Trentonian TV. Bill loved seeing the YouTube video of Cal's Hall of Fame speech when the camera panned in on him wearing a sports jacket. It was a sweltering day in Cooperstown. "I had 4-foot swells under my arms," Ripken said. "You could've surfed on them." Funny guy.

Ripken played 12 years with fair-to-middlin' stats. His dad was a respected baseball guy, his brother a young phenom then Hall of Famer, and he was a baseball brat with pretty good talent to hang around longer than most players do. Billy spent the first part of his career as the O's starting second baseman -- in 661 games, he and Cal combined for 469 double plays -- then bounced around the American League as a utility player. And there was a great sense of pride when he talked about being a guy the manager penciled into the lineup when a starter needed the day off, because the manager didn't have to worry about what kind of liability he might be. "I knew I could catch it, and I knew I could throw it."

He might have started more games had he hit the ball like he kept hitting my arm. Check it!

Below is the Bill Ripken interview in full.

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