By Marc Topkin
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The Rays seem pretty well set at shortstop, with Jason Bartlett starring in the big leagues, Reid Brignac impressive until injured at Triple-A and top draft pick Tim Beckham getting comfortable as a pro.
But they added another shortstop to the organization who could have a pretty significant impact in his own way – Cal Ripken Jr.
The Rays and Ripken have partnered to purchase and relocate the team’s Florida State League franchise from Vero Beach to the team’s new spring training site, where it will become the latest extension of Ripken’s fledgling empire.
Ripken Baseball is the primary owner (the Rays have a small share) and operator of the team, which will begin play in the reconstructed new stadium next April pending anticipated approval from the FSL, Minor League Baseball and the commissioner’s office.
"This opportunity came along and we started talking to the Rays and there was an immediate sort of synergy and partnership and it seemed like a really good opportunity," Ripken said. “A Florida State League team, with the spring training piece, works. A Florida State League team without the spring training piece is a little more challenging."
Ripken sees the deal as an opportunity to not only add a third team to his collection (joining short-season Aberdeen and low Class A Augusta), but also to expand his youth baseball programs to teenagers on full-sized fields. "We’re not in it for the short-term, we’re in it for the long-term and we want to do a good job,” Ripken said.
And he is confident his partnership with the Rays can work, even in the typically light-drawing Florida State League, mentioning the success of the Fort Myers and Daytona Beach franchises, given his group’s dedication to providing family entertainment and the product the Rays will provide.
“It’s awful great when you have an organization that has good prospects, good scouting, and you can start to sell the players that go through the league and actually sell winning a little bit," Ripken said. "So that prospect is really exciting to me. To partner with a class organization like the Rays, and to listen to their creative thoughts, you don’t know where that is going to end up as a partnership but it’s really exciting to enter into the potential of that relationship."
Said Rays president Matt Silverman: “We are thrilled to be partnering with Cal Ripken and Ripken Baseball on this unique venture. Ripken Baseball is an established and proven Minor League operator and the Ripken name is synonymous with success."
Ripken said he doesn’t expect to be too involved personally given other commitments, but will be there on occasion. “Occasionally you’ll need a promotional tool," he said, “and that’s me."
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