Brace yourselves, for Ironman is set to invade the city of Waco.
No, sorry, comic book fans, Robert Downey Jr. isn’t set to join Waco’s crime-fighting staff. The visit is instead coming from baseball’s Ironman, Cal Ripken Jr., who will be the featured speaker at the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s annual convention this week.
Ripken is the latest in a lustrous list of baseball icons who have addressed the THSBCA member coaches over the years. Past speakers have included the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Joe Morgan.
It doesn’t hurt that the THSBCA bills itself as the largest baseball coaching association in the country, with more than 3,200 members.
“I think part of it is because of the numbers, sure,” said Rex Sanders, the association’s executive director. “But we also have a lot of coaches with connections all over the country. We have guys who have played for or with or against these guys, and they get to know them. It’s those strong relationships that help us get really good speakers.”
Sanders said that typically the speakers don’t charge a speaking fee to the THSBCA, asking only for travel expenses and possibly a donation to a cause or charity close to the speaker’s heart.
Ripken will speak at the THSBCA’s main banquet at 6:15 p.m. Friday at the Brazos Room of the Waco Convention Center. The former Baltimore Orioles slugger figures to be one of the best hitters to ever address the crowd, as a 19-time Major League all-star and two-time American League MVP with 431 home runs and 1,695 RBIs to his credit. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, landing 98.5 percent of the vote on his first appearance on the ballot.
Of course, Ripken will forever be best known for his durability. He set the MLB record for most consecutive games played with 2,632, surpassing Lou “the Iron Horse” Gehrig.
“He’s such a role model to baseball coaches and players,” Sanders said. “To get him to come down here is pretty exciting. I know he wants to bring his brand of youth baseball to Texas, and I think we’ll be open to that.”
The THSBCA convention will get started on Thursday, and the first day will feature a panel with the six coaches whose teams won UIL state baseball championships last year, including Abbott’s Kyle Crawford. Other session speakers over the course of the three-day convention include MLB scout Nathan Trosky, Texas Rangers minor league coach Turtle Thomas, UIL athletic director Dr. Susan Elza, Brenham High School head coach Lanny Williams and McLennan Community College assistant Chris Berry.
Sanders said that the THSBCA is expecting a turnout of 2,800 to 3,200 coaches to attend, “depending on the walk-up (registration), which can sometimes be pretty big.”
This marks the 46th straight convention that the THSBCA has conducted in Waco, and Sanders said he can’t imagine it ever being held anywhere else.
“Coaches are used to it being in Waco,” Sanders said. “I think if we ever moved it, we’d have coaches still coming to Waco for the next two or three years after that.
“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, and Waco does a great job of hosting it. The people at the Convention Center are like friends, and that’s a big reason we keep coming back.”