Cablegate: Baseball Legend Cal Ripken Jr Spreads Goodwill in Nicaragua Through Sports

R 091500Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: State Department Public Diplomacy Envoy Cal Ripken, Jr. traveled to Nicaragua with fellow ex-Oriole and Nicaraguan native Dennis Martinez November 13-18 to share the Ripken Baseball brand of instruction with 300 lucky Nicaraguan kids and 60 youth league coaches. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) manages and funds the State Department's American Public Diplomacy Envoy program and facilitated the former Major League Baseball superstars' trip to Nicaragua. Ripken, Martinez, and two Ripken Academy Baseball instructors provided clinics in the cities of Granada and Managua and introduced Ripken's own fun, fast-paced game of Quickball to youngsters from the poor Granada neighborhood of Villa Esperanza. The visiting delegation spread baseball memories and goodwill not only among kids and coaches, but also among the many reporters, fans, and local audiences that participated in this winning baseball diplomacy program. END SUMMARY.

2. CLINICS: Cal Ripken, Jr., Dennis Martinez, and two Ripken Baseball coaches started out each morning in Granada and Managua by providing instruction to 30 youth league coaches. Ripken concentrated on batting techniques and Martinez focused on his own forte, pitching. The Nicaraguan coaches were thrilled with the presentations and some brave volunteers even had the chance to take a couple of swings against Hall of Famer Ripken. Each coach also received a copy of Ripken's Baseball Coaching Manual, translated into Spanish by the Embassy. This manual is also available on the Embassy Managua website.

Ripken's goal in these coaching clinics was to give helpful tips on how to be a better coach for kids. He talked about the importance of encouragement and cautioned against the use of negative words and feedback around young and eager learners. He personally demonstrated how the use of words like "Pow," "Wham," and "Bam" could make learning fun not only for youngsters but also for grown-ups. The coaches cheered and applauded upon seeing the Ironman of baseball swing away yelling "Bam!" and "Pow!"

The Ripken team and Martinez dedicated their afternoons to teaching 120 kids ages 7-12 in Granada and another 120 in Managua. Each young participant wore a T-Shirt provided by the Embassy bearing the ECA "Sports United" and Embassy "Estamos Unidos" (meaning "We Are United" in Spanish) logos. Looking uniform and eager in their tiny ball caps and red-trimmed shirts, the kids listened intently in their pre-assigned groups as Ripken commented on how "professional" they looked. He promised the kids an afternoon of "professional training" and he delivered. Ripken taught batting, Martinez pitching, one Ripken coach taught infield, and the other outfield techniques.

To mark the beginning of each clinic, one of the Ripken instructors
wielding a bullhorn pressed the siren button, and the kids charged
the outfield to begin their warm-up exercises and stretches. The
parents and local fans in the stadium stands exploded in laughter
and applause, and the cheering and fun continued throughout each
afternoon clinic. Ripken, Martinez, and Ripken Academy instructors
gave the kids the experience of a lifetime while emphasizing the
merits of hard work and dedication and being a good, upstanding

3. QUICKBALL: Part of Ripken's baseball mission is to grow baseball and its positive lessons around the world. With this in mind, Ripken reached out to underprivileged youth through a local non-governmental organization called Empowerment International. This NGO, run by a U.S. citizen based in Granada, runs a stay-in-school program for young kids from a poor neighborhood named Villa Esperanza. In Granada, Ripken, Martinez, and Ripken's two instructors introduced a fun new sport to the kids, which incorporated the fundamentals of baseball. The children loved the game and could not get enough of the gentle giant who got down on one knee and tossed soft, squishy balls to little girls and boys one quarter of his size.

At the end of the clinic day in Granada, the delegation made a
special visit to Villa Esperanza to see the destitute living
conditions of the kids with whom he had played Quickball earlier in
the day. In the warm and welcoming neighborhood filled with shack
homes made of zinc and wood scraps, Ripken stood among a sea of
little onlookers and accepted two baseballs that had been
autographed by all the children on the neighborhood team. Ripken
donated Quickball equipment to Empowerment International and also
made a charitable donation that would help keep 20 children in
school for the next year. He also delivered 100 pounds of school
supplies for the children that had been donated by Spanish language
students from Fallston High School in Maryland.

4. PARTNERS: Embassy Managua received excellent support from ECA on this program. Post would like to thank ECA for sending Ripken, his coaches, and Martinez to Nicaragua and allowing them to engage Nicaraguan audiences in a positive public diplomacy dialogue with the U.S.

The Embassy also received support from a variety of generous, local
organizations in order to help make this baseball program a success.
A small private university known for its strong sports program,
American College, helped with recruiting and selecting the program
participants. Corporations such as PricewaterhouseCoopers,
Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, and KPMG played an important role by
volunteering to provide snacks and drinks to the coaches and
children. Other sponsors included: Major League Baseball which
provided a working lunch with coaches; the Cocibolca Jockey Club
which provided a safe, free venue for the Granada morning clinics;
and an American-run real estate company, Hunter Blair, which
volunteered excellent interpreters to help the visiting American

5. PRESS COVERAGE: Ripken is probably best known for breaking Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. However, during his week in Nicaragua, Ripken headed up a new winning streak as he appeared on the front page of the sports section of both major daily papers for eight straight days (November 12-19). Not only did he get heavy local newspaper coverage but nearly every national radio and TV station covered the clinics and press conferences as he was given the keys to the city in Granada and a recognition plaque by the Association of Nicaraguan Sports Reporters. Given the heavy coverage, the estimated audience reached with this Public Diplomacy program in Nicaragua topped 2.5 million readers, television viewers and listeners in this country of just over 5 million. The Ripken Sports Envoy visit was also featured positively in international media such as the Washington Post (Nov. 16, p. A16), Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Tribune, (Ripken's daily blog), Sporting News Today, The Miami Herald, El Universal (Venezuelan daily), and on television by Univision, HBO International Sports Network and ESPN.

Public Affairs hosted a press conference at the Embassy with
national sports reporters upon Cal Ripken's arrival. Ambassador
Robert J. Callahan, Dennis Martinez and Jorge Ayestas, Executive
Director of American College, also attended. The event was well
covered by all major national media.

Each afternoon in Granada and Managua, Ripken and Martinez also held a press conference at the ball fields with local reporters. Ambassador Callahan participated in the Managua clinic day press conference which served as the closing press conference for the program. Since radio is the primary method of transmitting sports information to rural and impoverished populations, this additional coverage ensured that our Sports Envoy program reached the widest, deepest possible audience.

Editors of the most prominent radio, print and TV sports news
programs were in attendance at the Ambassador's welcome reception
for Ripken on November 13. In addition, a lucky sports reporter
from a local cable television station and two prominent sports
reporters from the nation's leading dailies, La Prensa and El Nuevo
Diario, were invited to attend a small barbecue that the Ambassador
held on November 16 in honor of Ripken's visit.

6. RESULTS: Whether a baseball fan or not, anyone who had the
opportunity to spend a few days in close contact with Ripken would
agree, he is not only a great ball player, but a great human being.
Throughout all of the public events and press questions put to
Ripken, he consistently referred to the values of hard work and
dedication that baseball can foster in youth. He was extremely
humble about his career, always stating that he played for the love
of the game, never for any record or recognitions. Martinez was
equally impressive. Ripken and his former teammate Martinez brought
the best of baseball and America to Nicaragua.

Ripken's baseball tour in Nicaragua was remarkably unblemished by
the surrounding Nicaraguan election results and violence which
ultimately prevented a Leon clinic day. Instead, Ripken's batting
for the U.S. Government produced a tremendous amount of American
goodwill among Nicaraguan citizens from all walks of life.

Overall, 60 youth league coaches and 300 kids aged 7-12 in Granada
and Managua received baseball clinics from Ripken and Martinez.
Millions more Nicaraguans benefited from the positive and uplifting
messages left in the press by Ripken's news streak.


© Scoop Media

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