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Legends feel no withdrawal in first spring away

The way they played the game, Tony Gwynn with the joy of a child and Cal Ripken with the devotion of a priest, one might think they'd be suffering in their first spring of retirement.

Friends imagine Gwynn sneaking out to batting cages in the middle of the night, Ripken getting his competitive fix playing hoops all day at home on his court.

How could two men who played baseball so well for so long walk away from the game without withdrawal pains?

Easily.

"My knees remind me every day why I retired," Gwynn said.

"I don't miss having to go through that first week of being sore when you get out of bed," Ripken said.

They miss the friendships, the clubhouse atmosphere, but they don't miss the ice packs, the buses and planes, the day games after night games on the road. They don't miss spending half the season away from their families, sending home long-distance kisses on birthdays.

Gwynn says he hasn't swung a bat since taking off his Padres uniform last fall with a .338 career average.

"I know how I am," he said with a laugh. "If I start swinging a bat, man, I'll be wanting to get an AB somewhere."

Ripken not only hasn't played baseball, he has barely touched a basketball, much less punished himself in the gym six, seven days a week the way he used to. The Iron Man who started 2,632 consecutive games from 1982 to 1998 is giving his body a break.

"I haven't worked out hardly at all since I retired," he said.

Retirement has been painless for Gwynn and Ripken, who loved playing but had enough of it. They're moving on, staying busy, still very much involved in the game in different ways.

At San Diego State University, where he averaged .398 over three seasons and starred as a guard in basketball, Gwynn is smoothing out hitting strokes as a volunteer coach while preparing to take over next year for retiring coach Jim Dietz.

In Aberdeen, Md., Ripken is bringing minor-league baseball to his hometown, along with a half-dozen dream fields for a baseball academy and the World Series of the 800,000-strong Cal Ripken League, the 5- to 12-year-old junior division of the Babe Ruth League.

"I get my baseball fix by teaching and working on our project, so I really don't miss going out there and getting ready for the season," said Ripken, who can't remember the last time he wasn't in spring training with the Orioles, either as a player or as a kid tagging after his father when he coached.

"It's different for someone like Michael Jordan, who was the best player when he retired and still can play better than anyone else," Ripken said. "In my case, I played it and played it and played it for 21 years and you kind of get your fill."

Considering how exuberantly Gwynn played for 20 seasons while piling up 3,141 hits, he might have had a harder time giving it up.

"I have my moments when I wish I were there, then I have a lot of moments when I'm happy where I'm at," he said. "This new job is even more intriguing, really, than spring training. It's been a blast.

"I love the teaching part. I could've been a hitting instructor, a roving guy in the minor leagues. To me, they're hungrier here in college. They want to get there. They want every bit of information. They want to hear every story. That's what makes it fun. I try to let the players see the passion I have for the game."

One of those players is his son, Anthony, a sophomore centerfielder who struggled early but is batting .318 halfway through the season.

"Every now and then he'll start woofing about how he did something better than I did it," Gwynn said. "He'll say, "You can't hit now.' And I'll say, "Y'know what, I haven't picked up a bat since the last day of the season, but I'll bet you I can get in there and hit a line drive quicker than you could any day.'

"The great thing is that the fish stories get humongous. Since I'm not swinging anymore, I don't have to prove it. That, to me, is the best part. I can tell all these stories because my stuff's in print now. It'll be in print from here until eternity."

If any ballplayers earned the right to rest on their stats or tell fish stories, it's Gwynn and Ripken, who surely will enter the Hall of Fame together in five years.

They may be back in the majors as managers. "I certainly have an interest," Ripken said. "Not for a long while," Gwynn said.

For the moment, this pain-free spring couldn't be sweeter and more deserved.

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