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Ripken set to speak at U. benefit dinner

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Monday's fund-raiser at the Sheraton City Centre in downtown Salt Lake City won't be the first time Cal Ripken Jr. and the University of Utah baseball program have teamed up.

Toward the end of his career with the Baltimore Orioles, Ripken worked out with the Utes at the old inflatable bubble practice facility on Guardsman Way. He recalls throwing and working on fundamentals with a nice group of guys.

"It gave me a chance to keep my skills pretty sharp," said Ripken, who is a frequent visitor to the state. He and his family make regular trips to the Stein Erickson Lodge at Deer Valley. "I fell in love with the area. My kids started to ski there years ago. I was just a boot holder and a ski carrier for a while," Ripken said. "Then I retired and I started to learn how to ski. So we come back multiple times during the year, always around Christmastime for sure."

Ripken is making an extra trip to the state for a youth baseball clinic at the Spence Eccles Field House, which has replaced the old facility he once worked out in, before attending a benefit dinner for the Utah baseball program.

A limited number of tickets — $100 per person or $1,000 for a table of 10 — are still available for the event, which begins with a reception at 6 p.m. They can be purchased by calling 581-6445 before noon on Monday. Ripken will be the keynote speaker after dinner and a reception.

The subject matter, he said, will be about values and principles — keys to his success applicable to young kids just starting out all the way to 41-year-olds starting their business lives.

Ripken, baseball's ironman who played in a record 2,632 consecutive games from 1982-98, is no longer involved in the majors. He values being with his family and is dedicated to a schedule that allows more time at home. Ripken is heavily involved in youth baseball initiatives, however, and owns a pair of minor league teams.

"I guess I'm developing skills in areas that I don't already have," said Ripken, who is working on a plan to buy more franchises in the minors.

A year from now, the 19-time All-Star is expected to be a first ballot inductee to baseball's Hall of Fame.

"I think it's one of those things that, yes you're thinking about in the back of your mind, and no you try to keep it from coming to the front of your mind because it's something that's out of your control," Ripken said. "It's out of your hands. It's a voting process and you don't want to project or look too far ahead."

That, simply put, is not his style.

"My success always came from really keeping your eye on the ball and looking at the day-to-day activities," said Ripken, who fondly recalls the joy friends Eddie Murray and Gary Carter experienced when they were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"It's a very special moment. It's the ultimate, highest honor as an individual player," he said. "I know all of those things intellectually, but I think emotionally I'd like to keep them at the back and deal with them if and when that happens."

To assist in the fund-raiser, several autographed items by Ripken will be auctioned off. Besides a ball, a bat and a replica Baltimore Orioles jersey, a customized University of Utah uniform with Ripken's name and number on it will also be available to the highest bidder.

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who spoke at last year's fund-raiser, is offering another item for bid — four tickets to any three-game series at Fenway Park in 2006 not involving the New York Yankees. The deal includes a field pass for one day and lodging.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com