Ripken says new stadium could revitalize Augusta

Cal Ripken Jr. settled into his seat in the right-field corner of Lake Olmstead Stadium on Tuesday night, finally able to sit back and watch some baseball.

Looking over the Augusta GreenJackets minor league baseball team - which his company, Ripken Baseball, owns - and a ballpark full of fans, the future Hall of Famer wrapped up a long and busy day in Augusta.

"I wish I could get here more often, but it has been busy, especially being the Hall of Fame year," Mr. Ripken said. "So whenever I get the chance to come, I thoroughly enjoy it. We kind of had to cram as much into this one day as possible."

Mr. Ripken met with city and state leaders to discuss the proposed riverfront stadium downtown before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the GreenJackets' game against the Asheville Tourists.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Downtown Stadium Exploratory Committee welcomed the 19-time All-Star. The governor's and Mr. Ripken's schedules coincidentally put them in Augusta on the same day.

"We had a great meeting earlier to discuss the stadium. To have them here, all of us meeting face to face, was a tremendous help," Mr. Copenhaver said. "We were able to share our vision, and I think getting them together got everybody excited about it. The governor is excited, I'm excited and I hope the whole community is excited."

Mr. Ripken spoke for the first time in person about the possibility of a $20 million park near the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens.

"I'm charged about it because I think it's a wonderful project. It's a process, but things are coming together nicely," Mr. Ripken said. "We talked about its potential and explained our vision. I thought it went very well, and I'm optimistic things are moving along."

Ripken Baseball and Mr. Copenhaver worked together on the stadium project and formed the exploratory committee in April.

"I'd be tickled for the entire city of Augusta if it had a new stadium downtown," Mr. Ripken said. "It would be more than just a stadium. It would be an economic engine. I'd love to see downtown Augusta revitalized, to see the kind of energy it could bring downtown like some other cities are experiencing.

"It's not just about baseball, it's more about having a community to be proud of," he added. "We've explained that we're not here short term. We're in it for the long haul."

Mr. Ripken expressed his happiness about the box office rejuvenation of the GreenJackets since Ripken Baseball took over in 2005, in addition to his upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Ripken and Tony Gwynn will be inducted into the hall July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y. They were elected in January.

"I feel like one of the lucky ones for being able to do what I've done," Mr. Ripken said. "And that is the culmination and the celebration. It makes me feel really good because I feel like I've really added something to the game. Hopefully, I made the game a little bit better than it was before."

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.

BACKGROUND: On April 10, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Bill Ripken, of the Ripken Baseball Group, announced that a Downtown Stadium Exploratory Committee would study the feasibility of a ballpark on the Savannah River between 11th and 13th streets in downtown Augusta.


DEVELOPMENTS

:

- On May 14, members of the committee visited Greenville, S.C., to tour the city's new ballpark, West End Field.

- On Tuesday, Cal Ripken Jr. met with Mr. Copenhaver, Gov. Sonny Perdue and members of the exploratory committee.


WHAT MR. RIPKEN IS SAYING: "I'd love to see downtown Augusta revitalized, to see the kind of energy it could bring downtown like some other cities are experiencing."