Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has named retired baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. to be a U.S. public diplomacy special envoy. Ripken, inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame last month, will begin the non-paying diplomatic role with a trip to China in October. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Ripken, best known for playing in an all-time record 2,600 and 32 consecutive regular season games, has devoted himself to promoting youth baseball since his retirement from the major leagues in 2001.

At a State Department press event launching his new career as a U.S. sports envoy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Ripken's integrity, iron man work ethic, and commitment to young people commend him for international dialogue.

"That dialogue must be sought out and conducted not only by people like us in government, but by committed Americans from all walks of life, Americans like Cal Ripken Jr., she said. "He truly exemplifies America at its best, our aspirations to be a better nation, and to help build a better world."

Ripken has built the United States' largest baseball academy in Aberdeen, Maryland, near Baltimore where he played for 21 years with the American League's Baltimore Orioles.

Twelve aspiring baseball coaches from China, currently attending the Ripken baseball school, were at Monday's event in Washington and Ripken's first overseas trip as sports envoy will be a two-week visit to China beginning in late October.

The 19-time Major League Baseball All-Star said he views his mission as non-political and an opportunity to reach more young people through that he termed the magic of sports and especially baseball.

"This is not a political statement for me necessarily," he said. "This is about the kids and planning you know, using baseball for good reasons. And just as we are able to cross cultural lines, I think it is amazing to watch kids interact that cannot speak and cannot communicate, but do have sport in common."

Ripken is the second prominent athlete recruited by the State Department's public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes. Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, a Chinese-American, joined the program last November and has made trips to Russia and China.