FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Imagine being 18 years old, a young shortstop in the Baltimore Orioles organization, and you're taking ground balls and talking baseball in spring training with Cal Ripken Jr., the Iron Man of baseball who broke Lou Gehrig's record.
The Year is 2000. Your name is Pete Shier.
"It was kind of cool, and scary at the same time, to go to spring training with Cal Ripken Jr.," Shier said Friday at the WWBA Underclass World Championship, where he's coaching the Phoenix Bat team from Ohio. "He walked right in, and there's a future Hall of Famer, and he gave me some pointers. I felt like I didn't know anything, after everything that he was showing me. It was great to be a part of the organization that whole time."
Shier, 28, spent eight years with the Orioles, all in the minor leagues. He was a shortstop, but his timing wasn't real good. Ripken had already moved from shortstop to third base by the time Shier joined the organization, but he later got stuck behind all-star shortstop Miguel Tejada on the depth chart. Later, when Shier signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2007, the Phils had an all-star shortstop of their own in Jimmy Rollins.
Imagine that. He got to learn from Ripken, Tejada and Rollins, three of the best in the business.
Shier kept toiling in the minor leagues, but three knee surgeries, including a pair of torn ACLs, led to his retirement after a Double-A campaign with the Phils in 2007. He has great memories, however, including that first spring training with the O's in 2000.
"I was 18 years old, and Mr. Ripken -- that's what I called him, Mr. Ripken -- he kept saying, 'Call me Cal, call me Cal,'" Shier related. "Being a shortstop, I got to spend basically every day with him in spring training, for a good four or five years. It was really nice, and he kind of took me under his wing. He was great."
Shier called Ripken a "presence," both for his aura and physical size (6-foot-5, 230).
"And it was intimidating," Shier said. "It was kind of like, 'Man, he doesn't miss a ground ball, he's so smooth.' And I'm rushing things."
Ripken broke Gehrig's record for most consecutive games when he played in his 2,131st straight on Sept. 6, 1995. Ripken kept going and raised the mark to 2,632 before finally skipping a game on Sept. 20, 1998. Shier was drafted by Baltimore in June of 1999 and went to spring training the next year.
Shier said Ripken didn't talk about the streak in the clubhouse or on the field. "Never at all," he said.
Ripken had a simple point of view, according to Shier. He was a professional ballplayer who got paid to play, every day. It was his job, and he took great pride in doing it well. Every single day. It was as simple as that.
"I wanted to idolize that, being able to play, day after day after day after day, and be like Ripken in that way," Shier said. Unfortunately, his knee injuries got in the way.
Shier and Ripken became friends, and Ripken has invited him to participate in events together, something Shier greatly appreciates.
Shier, who is from Columbus, Ohio, put the Phoenix Bat team together this fall to give players from Ohio a chance to play in showcase events like the WWBA tournament in Fort Myers. Now that his playing days are over, he'd like to get into scouting or coaching at the college or professional level.
He never made the big leagues as a player, but he has lots of good memories, especially of the man he used to call Mr. Ripken and now calls Cal.