A new facility in Prince George’s County, Maryland, aims to strengthen the relationship between the community and the county’s police department through the nation’s pastime: baseball.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, with support from Group 1001, is nearing completion of the Foundation’s 101st Youth Development Park (YDP) at the Prince George’s County Police Department headquarters in Landover.
Not only will the field be located at the police HQ, some officers will also be coaching.
Set to open sometime this winter, it will be the first YDP developed by the Foundation built on the grounds of a police department.
“Law enforcement wants to have a relationship in the communities and in the neighborhoods,” said Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who co-founded the Foundation with his brother Bill. “Sometimes police officers are seen as just coming in and getting the bad guys. If you soften that with teaching kids baseball skills or sports skills and you come in with the hat of a coach instead of a police uniform then you start to build a relationship.”
The YDP in Prince George’s County is the culmination of a relationship between the Foundation and the county’s police department that started back in 2013. That is when the police department launched the Foundation’s Badges for Baseball program that connects kids with local law enforcement.
“The Badges for Baseball program is essentially turning law enforcement officers into coaches,” Ripken said. “We really look at these youth development parks as outdoor classrooms. A coach can actually spend a little bit more time with you than a teacher just because of the nature of the sport.”
For Ripken, the construction of these safe places for kids to play and learn is about helping to build lives while continuing the legacy of his late father. Cal Ripen Sr. was at home on a baseball field and loved to teach the game to anyone and anywhere.
“We would be driving together in a car, and every once in a while he’d see some kids that were out just playing in a park and he would pull over,” Ripken remembers from times with his dad at spring training. “We would jump out and start playing catch with them. My dad got such a kick out of that. Essentially, we are trying to teach kids, baseball, and in the process, teach them a little bit about life and match them up mentors. It is all about opening up a whole new world to these kids.”
In Landover, kids will not only be able to play baseball, but enjoy a multi-purpose turf park. Enjoy is the operative word. YDP’s developed by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation are not about developing future Hall of Famers. Instead, the goal is to use the baseball and other sports experiences to help kids excel in all aspects of their lives.
For over 20 years, the Foundation has been working to place YDP’s in some of America’s most underserved and distressed communities. Across the country — from Maine to California, Florida to Washington and points between — these facilities become part of the fabric of communities through partnerships with law enforcement and youth-service agencies. In addition to the games on the field, the Foundation is active in the creation of STEM Centers.
“We look at these places as safe places to play, and the byproduct of some of these fields, is that we have found out that they are transformational,” Ripken said. “I think the community sees how nice they are, and then they protect it.”
Last year, Ripken estimate the Foundation had an impact on 1.5 million kids through its Youth Development Parks. The YDP in Landover marks the Foundation’s 101st, with more on the way.
“If we get them to go through our program and get them to high school, can we figure out a way to get them to college?” Ripken said. “Then can we figure out a way to assist them in college and then when they get out, can we figure out a way to assist them in the job market? These are things parents often help with, but many of the kids we are trying to get to don’t have those influences.”