REISTERSTOWN, Md. — The house that Cal built sits on 25 acres of land north of Baltimore, close enough for a short drive to the city but far enough to escape the rest of the world.
It has all the amenities of a modern mansion, plus a few custom touches reflective of the sports legend who owns it — a full-size baseball field, indoor gym, personalized locker room. On the front lawn sits a 2,000-pound rock engraved with the numbers “2131.” Cal Ripken Jr.’s teammates gave it to him in 1995 on the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
If the baseball field was Ripken’s stage, this house was his laboratory, his refuge, his home base. And in many ways, the key to understanding the man himself.
At 57, his playing days are long past. He’s a little older, a little bigger but still fit. The blue eyes are exactly the same. Now, the Iron Man is moving on, literally and figuratively.
His divorce was finalized in 2016 and his two children, Rachel and Ryan, are adults. So, he’s selling his estate. It originally listed for $12.5 million; the price dropped to $9.7 million last year, and now Ripken is selling it at a no-minimum, no-reserve auction on May 12. Open houses begin on Saturday.
At the moment, there are boxes everywhere and Cal is deciding what stays and what goes. His personal items have been moved to Annapolis, where he now lives. There are piles of sports equipment, much of it earmarked for his favorite charities. Friends are dropping by for one last look.
Everyone is sad Cal is leaving. Everyone wants to know whether Cal is sad about leaving.
Actually, Cal is doing great. He’s got his youth baseball business, his foundation work, a new endorsement deal with Roy Rogers and a romance with Laura Kiessling, a circuit court judge in Anne Arundel County.
“I’m in a very good place now,” he says, standing in the half-empty living room. “I think more about moving forward than behind. One day, maybe I’ll sit down in my rocking chair and look back and reflect. Right now, I’ve got other things to do.”
To walk through the property is to understand what made the Hall of Famer great: the passion for sports, the methodical planning, the quest for perfectionism.
Consider the locker room, one of his favorite places in the world: As the son of a professional baseball coach, he grew up around locker rooms. They’re his office, his comfort zone, the place where made friends, talked baseball, created lifelong bonds.
He built his version with a dozen teak lockers and a display wall with his 2131 memorabilia. His designated locker is on the far right, next to the training room. Inside, the massage table is a reproduction of the one at Camden Yards. “It’s important to know the ice machine is therapeutic ice that you put in ice wraps. It’s the exact same ice machine that’s in Camden Yards. This tub right here” — he points to a 300-gallon steel vessel — “was the original stainless steel tub from Memorial Stadium that all the old Colts and all the old Orioles sat in.” He opens a shower door. The showerheads are the same he had in Memorial Stadium because they shoot out a lot of water. “It’s the feeling of what you were used to, down to this detail here,” he says.
He researched everything to get it exactly right. “I’m analytical, and I analyze every bit of what I do,” he explains. “This is not a spa. This is a locker room. It’s the clubhouse.”
The perfect buyer will not want a spa. The perfect buyer will be someone like Ripken, who is never completely content, never flashy, never willing to rest on their laurels or their millions. Someone old-fashioned who’s not embarrassed to ride around on a motorized lawn mower — like Ripken did here — because keeping a yard beautiful is both calming and productive.
In 1984, three years into his 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Cal decided to buy a house. He was 24 years old.
“I always liked living out in the country, and I always liked land,” he says. He looked at three or four properties, including a couple of farms on more than 100 acres, but he settled on these 25 acres in Maryland’s horse country. The property was smaller than he wanted and bit more expensive, but it felt like the middle of nowhere and was just 25 minutes to the airport and 25 minutes to the ballpark.
One of his neighbors is Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, who owns a horse farm nearby.
Cal began working with architects and says the house grew, “bigger than it should.” After two renovations, it’s now more than 21,000 square feet including a guest suite, office space, a jewel-like movie theater that seats 11 and a full-court basketball gym, which the architects tried to talk him out of.
“You’ll grow out of that phase,” they told him. “No, I won’t,” he replied.
As a little boy, he used to play basketball outside in the winter. “I’d come inside and my hands would be freezing, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have an indoor place to play basketball?’ ”
So, he built an 8,000-square-foot facility where he and his teammates could hang out and train during the offseason. The basketball court sometimes turned into a street hockey rink. Upstairs, there’s a fully equipped exercise room.
Underneath that: An enclosed batting cage — it looks like a long bowling alley, lined with tension wire and netting — complete with an automatic pitching machine where he practiced hitting, over and over. It’s precious to him because Cal Sr., who died in 1999, helped plan and build it.
There’s also a pitcher’s mound and marks on the floor where Cal would practice switching up his batting stance. “This was kind of a laboratory for me,” he says, standing near home plate.
On one wall of the room, there’s a locked door. Where some people would have a wine cellar, Cal has a bat cellar, which once held 600 wooden bats and other equipment.
Outside, there’s a regulation-size baseball diamond, where you can hit a home run (short on the left, long on the right.) Because Cal grew up playing in Memorial Stadium where the Colts also played, there are also two goal posts, so the field can convert to a football field.
Cal is head groundskeeper, pool boy, and handyman. His father taught him to mow straight lines and clip sharp edges as a kid, lessons he applied to everything in his life.
“To me, it’s all Dad’s principles,” he explains. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
Not just right, but smarter, stronger, faster every time you do it.
“I always try to find a better way,” he adds.
The interior of the residence is, for the most part, free of any visible baseball decor — except for the little window in the living room shaped like an inverted home plate and a jersey signed by Ted Williams.
His favorite room is the kitchen. He learned to cook when his mother, Violet, sent him to the minors with a binder of his favorite recipes: Round roast, meatloaf, hamburger stew, a full Thanksgiving dinner and turkey pot pie. (As a bachelor he didn’t have a rolling pin, so he rolled out the crust with a baseball bat.)
In his free time now, he still loves to fiddle around in the kitchen and is trying to perfect eggplant Parmesan. He keeps tweaking the recipe, like he once worked on his swings and the rest of his game.
“I decided one day I was going to do it,” he says. “One of the recipes said the meat sauce was the key to a great eggplant Parmesan. So I started to experiment with meat sauces and mixing multiple meats: ground sirloin, Italian sausage — both mild and hot — and also bratwurst,” he says, adding that, in fact, the bratwurst is his secret to a great meat sauce.
But he’s absolutely, positively not retired. He’s juggling the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation — the organization has built 75 baseball parks in lower-income communities — and his for-profit business, Ripken Baseball. He owns three youth baseball complexes: One in his home town of Aberdeen, Md.; one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and one in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for tournaments and camps, with plans to expand around the country.
And, he just signed a deal with the fast-food chain Roy Rogers. Early in his career, he was offered endorsements with Jockey and the Mid-Atlantic Milk Marketers Association. Jockey offered a lot of money, but he wasn’t comfortable having his mom see him in underwear ads. So milk it was, then Esskay hot dogs.
Life is full of choices, and Cal likes to make the right one, to stay true to his essential Cal-ness. When Roy Rogers came to him, he accepted because he ate their roast beef sandwiches as a kid, and now as an adult he admires the company’s philanthropic side.
Cal is less forthcoming about his personal life. He keeps his kids, now 28 and 24, out of the spotlight. He’s recently taken up mountain biking, and rides 20 miles a day wearing sunglasses and a helmet, which allows him to be anonymous in public. He’s been dating Kiessling for more than a year, but isn’t talking about her except to say, “Everything is great. I’m extremely happy.”
He’s still renting in Annapolis while he researches the housing market and explores all his options.
“I don’t think I want to build again,” he says.