The wish of all baseball and softball moms when their child first starts a sport is to have fun, make friends and learn the game in a positive environment. The same held true for some of baseball’s most prominent players’ moms.
Anyone wondering where Jimmy Rollins got his charisma and confidence need look no further than his mom Gigi Rollins, who was a middle infielder for the Allen Temple Baptist Church women’s fast-pitch softball team, now retired. She dazzled with the glove. Burned around the bases. It was at her spiked feet that young Jimmy learned both the game and the verve with which he plays it; baseball might cherish the image of fathers playing catch with sons, but Rollins owes everything to his mother.
One of Gigi’s former teammates, Lisa DeWitt, recalled: “Gigi is the one Jimmy got his talent from. And he got his grit from his mama, too. She was the one always talking.” Jimmy watched closely. He and his younger brother, Antwon, who played briefly in the Texas Rangers’ farm system, loved how all eyes fixed on their mother. While their father (also named Jimmy) taught them the history of the game and hit them grounders on pebbled fields — better to quicken their hands for bad hops — it was Gigi who showed them how it was done on stage.
“I don’t remember my mom ever missing a ball,” Rollins said. “Her hitting was good, too. She’d gap some balls and drop it in gear, kind of like myself. She’d always take the extra base; she was far more aggressive than I am.”
He added: “I would listen to her and her friends talk baseball and situations. It seemed funny. I’m like, ‘These are women — what do they know?’ But they knew what they were talking about.”
The values, ideals, and goals Gigi Rollins instilled in her son Jimmy have become legendary. Her love, support and belief in Jimmy gave him the foundation to realize his dreams to play Major League Baseball. A Babe Ruth League graduate, Jimmy Rollins led his 12-year-old Oakland, California team to the World Series title in Longview, Washington, and again in 1991 in Pueblo, Colorado. He was named the Most Outstanding Player and Batting Champion of the World Series in 1991.
And yes, Gigi did car pools and refreshment stands. She also rang the cowbell and cheered from the stands like every other baseball mom.
If you want to meet the matriarch of Maryland's most famous baseball family, just go to a minor league game in Aberdeen. There she is on dozens of summer nights — plain-spoken and tough as leather but also open, happy to talk about the thousands of games she watched as the wife of a manager and the mother of infielders.
Violet Ripken — "Vi" to anyone who knows her — married a baseball lifer, Cal Ripken Sr., and raised two future major leaguers, one of whom,Cal Ripken Jr., went on to the Hall of Fame. Her boys hung up their spikes long ago, but at age 74, she still treats the ballpark as a second home.
Vi has four children: Fred, Elly, Cal Jr. and former Orioles second baseman Bill.
Vi remembers the little boy who wore his uniform to bed the night before his first Babe Ruth League game and resisted when told to take it off. "He finally did, but I went back to his room a couple hours later and he had put it back on and was sleeping with his glove," she said. "All I could do was laugh. Cal has always wanted to be prepared."
"She's the ultimate mother," said Ron Shapiro, Cal Ripken Jr.'s longtime agent and friend. "If you're going to make a home and give values to your children, someone has to be there every day so they feel that stability. Vi has done that as well as anyone I've ever known. She was always there for them."
Sometimes, that meant packing the four Ripken children in the family Mercury and driving them to a remote minor league outpost — Appleton, Wisconsin, Kennewick, Washington, Elmira, New York — where Cal Sr. was managing. Sometimes, it meant taking them to their own games as she managed the household while he was away.
"Cal and Billy have always said that in a lot of ways, she filled the role of both parents, because Cal Sr. was always away with minor league teams," said John Maroon, a longtime spokesman for the Ripkens.
Observers have often credited Cal Sr., who died in 1999, with imparting the toughness and work ethic that allowed Cal Jr. to play in a record 2,632 straight games. But family friends said Vi, who shares her son's understated demeanor and piercing blue eyes, was just as responsible.
"The sense of everyday discipline and responsibility that came from her" Shapiro said. "She and Cal Sr. complemented each other. Neither was gregarious. They were quiet, determined people who led by example."
Cal Ripken, Jr. was a catcher who signed with the Orioles in 1956 and spent his entire professional career with the organization, moving into coaching and managing once his playing days ended. The couple married in 1957, and Vi Ripken embraced the itinerant summers of a baseball wife. She later said that when Cal Sr. became the club's manager in 1987 and 1988, it was one of her proudest moments.
For all her toughness, the children saw an emotional side as well. Fred Ripken recalled her speeding into the parking lot at Aberdeen High School after Cal Jr. was drafted by the Orioles — hugging him, backing up a step and then hugging him again with tears in her eyes.
She was usually on hand to celebrate the milestones in Cal Jr.'s career. She remembered the night in 1995 when he broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played: "We treat everything very matter-of-factly, so we would just laugh. He did what he was supposed to do, come to work every day. That night the electricity was so great. It was an awe moment. It was quite emotional."
Whether your son or daughter plays professional sports or participates in the local Babe Ruth league, or has done both, sports moms go through many of the same emotions and experiences. They are at every game sitting with the other moms, cheering on their kids, whether they are 12-years-old or 25-years-old. They are thankful for having this time to be a Sports Mom may have its harrowing moments, but it is just one of those special rewards that are priceless.