ABERDEEN, Md. — Cal Ripken Jr.’s mother told a neighbor that the man who kidnapped her at gunpoint, tied her up and blindfolded her didn’t seem to know she was part of a famous baseball family as the two drove around together in her car.
The gunman, who has not been found, forced 74-year-old Vi Ripken into her silver Lincoln Continental Tuesday morning and she was found bound but unharmed in the back seat about 24 hours later near her home in Aberdeen outside Baltimore, police said.
She described her abductor as a tall, thin white man with glasses wearing camouflage clothing, but police had no other details. The FBI and Maryland State Police were also involved in the investigation.
Ripken told next-door neighbor Gus Kowalewski that the gunman didn’t seem to know her son was the Hall of Fame infielder nicknamed “Iron Man” for playing in 2,632 consecutive games during his 21-year career with the Baltimore.
“He said he just wanted money and her car,” Kowalewski said.
Investigators do not know the kidnapper’s motive and there was no ransom demand for Vi Ripken’s release, Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert said at a news conference.
When asked if police believe the kidnapper knew who he was abducting, Trabert did not answer, saying investigators don’t know if the suspect has any ties to the Ripken family.
Kowalewski said he spoke with Vi Ripken later Wednesday morning and she told him the gunman tied her hands and put a blindfold on her, but said he wouldn’t hurt her.
“He lit cigarettes for her, they stopped for food,” Kowalewski said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to take you back,’ and that’s what he did.”
Kowalewski said Ripken told him the gunman originally planned to put tape over her eyes.
“But he didn’t do that because she said ‘please don’t do that ‘cause I’m claustrophobic,’” said Kowalewski, a 72-year-old retired autoworker.
Instead, the gunman put some type of mask or blinders on her, and she could see somewhat out the sides, he said.
Three years after voluntarily ending his Iron Man streak, Ripken Jr. retired in 2001. He is the chairman and founder of Ripken Baseball Inc., which he runs along with his brother, Bill.
He owns three minor-league baseball teams, including the Single A IronBirds based at the Ripken Baseball complex in Aberdeen, a middle-class area of about 15,000 people. Kowalewski said Ripken told him the gunman asked her about items in the car related to the Ironbirds and did not seem to know about the team.
Mike Hudson, 43, whose mother lives across the street from Ripken, said he was surprised the kidnapper came back to the neighborhood because police were swarming over the area about midnight.
“It’s just hard to believe the guy came all the way back on the street and dropped her off. That makes me believe he was local, very local,” said Hudson, who is staying at his mother’s house while visiting with his daughter.
Ripken’s car didn’t appear to be damaged, he said.
“This has been a very trying time for our family, but we are grateful and relieved that mom is back with us, safe and healthy,” the Ripken family said in a statement. “We want to thank everyone for their tremendous support, especially all of the law enforcement agencies that worked so hard and quickly.”
Ripken’s brother, Bill, played second base in the major leagues. The two were managed for a time on the Orioles by their father and Vi’s husband, Cal Ripken Sr., who died in 1999.
The family said that it could not comment further due to the ongoing investigation.
After the gunman left, Ripken honked her car’s horn until a neighbor found her, Kowalewski said. He said he was surprised the honking didn’t wake him up. Someone reported a suspicious car to authorities and she was found, police said.
Vi Ripken is founding chairwoman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which, according to its website, helps to build character for disadvantaged young people. Besides Cal and Bill, she has another son and a daughter.
The Ripken Baseball complex also is home to the annual Cal Ripken World Series for 11- and 12-year-olds. Cal Ripken Baseball is the name for the 5-to-12-year-old division of the Babe Ruth League.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Ben Nuckols contributed to this story from Washington.