He might have been around 4 years old, when the basketball was about as big as he was. He'd watch dad and his friends go at it on the court behind the house, then try and mimic everything they did.
Each windmill heave came with a simple hope – get the ball to the rim … get the ball to the rim … get the ball to the rim. That's all. Get something. Anything.
Every once in a while, dad would sneak a peek down at his son and grin. You can picture it, can't you? An independent son wanting to make his way, wanting to do it himself. A proud father standing back dispensing guidance and advice when needed.
never wanted any help from his dad. Ryan would make the basket on his own. No lift from dad. He just keep trying, and trying until he got it.
Today, Ryan towers over his famous father, Cal. He's 6-foot-6, weighs 205 pounds, and is making his own name, slipping out of the considerable shadow of dad to play first base for Gilman (Baltimore)
. A two-sport standout in basketball and baseball, it looks as if Ryan may be following the family path and gravitating more towards a future in baseball.
Though not because of his Hall of Fame father. Nor because of the Ripken name.
Because it's what Ryan Ripken wants to do.
Ryan was 2 years-old when his father broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak and 8 when he retired. He was around his father constantly, a wide-eyed child absorbing everything in large gulps. Though he resembles mom Kelly, he acts like his father, Cal, even down to their playful personalities.
There's no ignoring Ryan's Ripken genes. According to Gilman coach Larry Sheets, a former Baltimore teammate of Cal's, Ryan plays with an above-average baseball IQ for a 17-year-old, able to see, read and be proactive to things most normal high school players react to.
A three-year starter, Ryan finished his junior year hitting .353 this past season with 23 RBIs, and he carries a .345 career average for the Greyhounds. On the basketball court, he averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. With a 3.7 GPA at the academically demanding Gilman, a number of Ivy League and ACC schools have expressed interest in Ryan for baseball and basketball. Some schools have expressed interest in him for both sports.
There's one other glaring feature about Ryan – he's a better athlete than his father was at the same age
. And that's his parents' doing. Ryan never wanted for anything, but he's worked for everything that he's achieved. He accepts no handouts, famous last name or no famous last name.
Ryan plays in the real world, not the pampered world the children of some sports legends receive.
"Growing up, I never wanted any exceptions," Ryan said. "My parents weren't going to give me any breaks. I didn't want them outside the house, either. I remember the times watching when my dad was playing basketball, and I always wanted to do what he did. I kept throwing the ball up hoping to get the rim, and I did it until I was able to do it. I think that's just part of my nature. I'm going to keep trying until I get it. That's me."
The scary part of it is that Ryan doesn't know how good he is at baseball. Running from one sport to the next, he's never truly concentrated on playing just one. He's never had an opportunity to fill out his 6-6 frame and embark on a consistent weight training regiment. It's always been a tug of war between baseball and basketball, two sports he's always loved. Each sport has had a habit of dovetailing into the other.
Ryan is committed to snapping that knot.
"I want to prove myself in one, and that's baseball," Ryan said. "I want to see what potential I have and what I really can do in baseball. I plan on playing in the fall for the first time, and I always imagined doing certain things, but until I try, I'll never know. I've always been my harshest critic. I know what's ahead. I know there is going to be a lot more pressure with whatever happens in baseball because of the name, but I think I can deal with that.
"I just need to find out things for myself and where I stand. In the past, I was always splitting time between basketball and baseball. But baseball, in my opinion, is the tougher sport. It's the greater challenge for me. And it's something I want to do.
Sheets, for one, says Ryan can deal with it. Sheets goes way back with Ryan, since when he was born. He came up with Cal to the Orioles in 1978 and when Sheets got the job at Gilman, he called his former teammate and friend to see if he'd like to join his staff as an assistant coach.
"Ryan is good, because he's one of the best first basemen I've ever seen at this level that thinks through the game," said Sheets, whose son, Gavin, is an exceptional player in his own right at Gilman. "Ryan can analyze the game, a lot like his father. Ryan was always around the game and his father has worked with him quite a bit, but he understands the game at a very high aptitude.
"The other aspect about Ryan that makes him special is that he doesn't consider the name a burden. He's his own person, first and foremost. With all the attention around him, the good and the bad that comes with it, he's made his own way. You know how I know? The other kids on the team respect him and like him. That's a good barometer, because kids know fakes when they see them. They all really like Ryan. And he is a lot like Cal, they're both funny, but when it's game time, that changes fast. Ryan's serious side comes out."
Ryan was born into the world of Major League Baseball, though he says he was around 5 or 6 when he fully grasped who his father was. He knows the pressure of comparisons that will inevitably be made, despite the fact that he and his father play two different positions. And Ryan throws and bats left, while Cal threw and batted right.
Father and son are like companion pieces. Ryan playfully teases dad about his bald head, and Cal fires back that Ryan's bountiful, moppy brown hair may not always be there. Ryan gets the better of the old man on the court, but dad, ever relentless, will challenge Ryan again. It goes the other way, too, those rare times Cal wins.
It all goes back to a firm family foundation of being balanced and grounded. The message in the Ripken home was simple: Be committed to doing whatever you want to do, if it makes you happy.
"Our biggest priority was keeping a routine and keeping things as normal as we could with the children when Cal was playing," said Kelly, who played high school basketball and it's where Ryan gets his height. "We also didn't want our children to expect things, you work for them. Ryan is very unusual for his age. He's a people pleaser who's very outgoing. With Ryan growing up, things were presented to him that if he wanted to pursue them, he could. If he didn't want to play baseball or sports, that was fine with us, too. As long as whatever he did, he loved doing and was committed to doing his best."
Right now, Ryan seems comfortable in his own skin as "Cal Ripken's son." The proud son of a legend. Though possibly some day, maybe 10 years from now, a throng of fans will be gathered around Ryan asking for autographs and wanting their picture taken with him, and a child may ask his father who the blue-eyed man is standing next to Ryan.
And that dad will reply, "That's Ryan Ripken's father, Cal. He used to play baseball, too."