As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Tim is an eccentric. He is bombastic, enjoys music and likes to dance. Many good times have been shared with Tim. There were little league games, high school parties and several seasons of rec league softball. He’s been your wing man at sporting events and a member of your foursome during rare trips around the links. With a shared circle of friends, he’s turned up at bachelor parties, baby showers and barbeques over the years. Tim is, by all accounts, your friend. He has enriched in your life at several stages and in various capacities. And if you needed something – a couple eggs, a cup of flour or a beer - Tim would deliver with a smile, no questions asked.
But your relationship with Tim is challenged. He can be arrogant and self-centered, and isn’t above a shameful remark about various demographics other than his own. With an unspoken understanding of irreconcilable differences, politics are an uncommon topic. Tim’s smartphone is dangerous territory for wholesome souls and immaturity is a personality trait he pridefully maintains.
The specific details vary, but everyone has a “Tim”: that imperfect soul who is best seen in small doses (so as to create needed breathers from his unbecoming traits).
As a child of the 80s and a long-time Maryland resident, Cal Ripken Jr. is the most significant baseball player in my life. Between my ninth and twenty-ninth birthdays, Ripken won the Rookie of the Year, the World Series, two MVPs, eight Silver Slugger awards and two Gold Gloves. He amassed over 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, and in 1995 broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played. His life-size “Drink Milk” poster hung on my wall. He hit a game-winning home run during my eighth-grade class trip to Memorial Stadium. Years later, I was at Camden Yards when he tied Gehrig’s record. I watched thousands of his at bats on Home Team Sports and only my death will separate me from his rookie cards.
Then there’s the grander-than-fiction/beyond imagination stuff: Ripken grew up in Aberdeen, Maryland, suited up for his hometown Baltimore Orioles, and played part of his career for his dad and with his little brother. It was a little league story taking place at the major league level. But the most impressive chapter in Ripken’s fairy tale? He built and maintained one of the most impeccable reputations in professional sports history – a true icon on and off the diamond.
The world’s “Tim’s”, human flaws, and today’s unfiltered communication and social media scoundrels, beg the question: would Cal Ripken Jr. be possible today? Launch Ripken’s career 40 years into the future. Now he’s a 22-year-old charismatic phenom winning Rookie of the Year in 2022, not 1982. The Orioles would expect him to maintain an active social media presence. His every public move would be captured on fan video. And he would have one of MLB’s most popular podcasts.
Try has he might, there would be missteps – a regretful video here, an impulsive response to a social media troll there. The social interaction filter applied to make “Tim” tolerable wouldn’t be available to Ripken; fame leaves few hiding places. Not that Ripken ever had such regrettable traits as our hypothetical “Tim”, but it would be naïve to think Ripken’s impeccable image was absolute reality. Imperfection is an innate human trait, and character destruction and chaos are preferred today to character building and order. Moreover, with everyone wielding a smartphone, and masquerading journalists/click-bait chefs whipping up salacious nonsense, today’s social environment leaves no reputation unscathed – fair or not.
The result: a modern-day Cal Ripken Jr. experience, even assuming the identical baseball accomplishments, would be decidedly different. Ripken’s character would likely not be as irreproachable (how could it be?). But the greater consequence would be his predictable self-preserving retreat to only the bare minimum of carefully choreographed public interaction, an act that would deprive Baltimore and its fans of the unique, intimate relationship they had, and still have, with him.
What if Cal Ripken Jr. had a podcast during his playing days? I’m glad he didn’t.