Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ward Webb has an entire room in his Gonzales home devoted to Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Fame shortstop who played in a record 2,632 consecutive games.
A fan of Johnny Bench growing up, Webb said he gravitated to Ripken’s lunch-pail work ethic.
“I just took an interest in someone working that number of days in a row because that’s his job and that’s what he does. That symbolized what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be,” Webb said.
Webb had a chance to tell Ripken as much Saturday night.
The guest of honor at the second annual Marucci Live gala, Ripken joined a long list of baseball stars who appeared at the Baton Rouge River Center to celebrate the achievements of various players during the 2011 season and in the process raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge.
The event also celebrated the growth of Marucci, the Baton Rouge-based bat company LSU trainer Jack Marucci started with a workshop in his backyard.
“You watch Major League Baseball these days,” former LSU pitcher Ben McDonald said, “it seems like every other guy has a big M on the bat they’re swinging.”
Big-league sluggers like Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista have long used Marucci bats. Aluminum bats like the Marucci Black are making waves in the youth market.
Marucci CEO Reed Dickens said as the company grows, the opportunity to raise awareness for worthy causes will grow with it.
Last year, the first Marucci Live was held at the Baton Rouge Marriott.
The move to the larger River Center was coupled with Marucci’s new partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, which had several members in attendance Saturday night.
“The idea was for this to be an event that adds value to the community. Most local non-profit events are holding out the tin cup, kind of squeezing the community for donations. The Boys & Girls Club here was one of the only metropolitan Boy & Girls Clubs in the United States without a facility, and we wanted to help raise awareness about that,” Dickens said.
VIP tables of 10 seats Saturday were priced at $2,500, including a four-course meal and access to athletes during a private cocktail hour.
Big-leaguers like Geoff Jenkins, Ryan Vogelsong, Chad Durbin and Brian Tallet were on hand. Former LSU stars like Anthony Ranuado, Mikie Mahtook, Jared Mitchell, Louis Coleman and McDonald were there as well.
MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, a former big-league second baseman, served as the event’s emcee.
During a question-and-answer segment with Ripken, Reynolds asked his former Baltimore Orioles teammate about breaking Lou Gehrig’s steak of consecutive games played.
“I thought it was a sense of responsibility I thought you owed to your teammates,” Ripken said. “The managers kept putting my name in the lineup. I kept playing.”
Ripken said the streak nearly ended a year early in 1997, but doctors told him he could do no further damage to the herniated disc in his back by playing.
They just thought the pain would be too much.
“Everyday players play every day,” Ripken said. “Maybe I took that literally.”
Dickens said Marucci would soon join forces with Ripken Baseball Inc., whose mission is to grow the game of baseball worldwide from the grassroots level.
“Marucci is about to be announced as the official bat of Ripken Baseball, and Cal is going to be the chairman of our Major League Player Advisory Board,” Dickens said.
“This event is kind of a kickoff to our partnership with Cal Ripken. He’s going to be an owner in Marucci, and we’re going to be the official bat of Ripken.”
Other highlights Saturday included the distribution of awards for players who caught the nation’s attention this year on both the professional and amateur levels.
The biggest ovation went to Mahtook, who received the college player of the year award.