A theme Cal Ripken Jr. touched on in his Hall of Fame induction speech last month did not go unheeded in the nation's capital.
That July 29 afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y., Ripken urged Major Leaguers to focus on America's youth. On Monday in Washington, D.C., the newest Hall of Famer was appointed a special sports envoy by the U.S. State Department and will begin his duties with a visit to China in late October.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a noted sports fan, formally announced the appointment and making reference to Ripken's record of 2,632 consecutive games said, "Cal, I assume that whenever I call you, you're going to be hard at work for America."
In the unsalaried position, Ripken will work closely with Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes "to promote cross-cultural dialogue and increase understanding of the United States by sharing his impressive personal story and life experiences," according to a State Department statement, which added, "He will reach out to a worldwide audience of young people while visiting their schools and clubs, hosting baseball skills clinics, and sharing the keys to his success: character, hard work and perseverance."
"This isn't a political statement for me, necessarily," Ripken said in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State. "This is about kids ... and using baseball for good reasons. I know it is not probably going to be easy in some environments. Sport -- baseball in particular -- is very magical. It can go across cultural lines."
Since his retirement as a player five years ago after 21 seasons, all with the Baltimore Orioles, Ripken has devoted the bulk of his energy with brother Bill to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. Named for their late father, it gives underprivileged children the opportunity to attend baseball camps around the country.
In his Hall of Fame induction speech, Ripken said, "Whether we like or not, we big leaguers are role models. The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative? Should we put players up on pedestals and require that they take responsibility? No. But we should encourage them to use their influence positively to help build up and develop the young people who follow the game. Sports can play a big role in teaching values and principles. Just think. Teamwork, leadership, work ethic and trust are all part of the game, and they are also all factors in what we make of our lives. Games were and are important, but people and how we have impact on them are most important. We are the ambassadors for the future. Just as a baseball player wants to make his mark on the game and leave it a little better than he found it, we should all try to make this world a better place for the next generation."
Ripken is the State Department's second special sports envoy, joining figure skater Michelle Kwan.
"Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago, and now this honor bestowed upon me by the State," Ripken said. "That's a pretty good little, a pretty good little streak."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.