A tip of the cap to a base­ball leg­end

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

In his play­ing days, they called him “The Hu­man Vac­uum Cleaner.” And right­fully so, since Bal­ti­more Orioles third base­man Brooks Robin­son won 16 con­sec­u­tive Gold Gloves for his de­fen­sive prow­ess. He spent his en­tire 23-year ca­reer with the Orioles, and at one time led the team in ca­reer home runs. He won the MVP award in the Amer­i­can League in 1964, and helped power Bal­ti­more to World Se­ries cham­pi­onships in 1966 and 1970 dur­ing the team’s glory days, in which they reached the Fall Clas­sic four times in a six-year span.

Robin­son, who was the face of the fran­chise be­fore there was ever a Cal Rip­ken Jr. or a Manny Machado, will cel­e­brate his 80th birth­day to­mor­row, Thurs­day, May 18. And we salute him.

Of course, base­ball fans to­day rec­og­nize him as one of the own­ers of the South­ern Mary­land Blue Crabs, this area’s ball­club in the in­de­pen­dent At­lantic League. He has vis­ited Re­gency Fur­ni­ture Sta­dium in Wal­dorf nu­mer­ous times, although a cou­ple of health scares — in­clud­ing surgery for prostate cancer, and suf­fer­ing an in­jury in a nasty fall from a plat­form at a char­ity event — have slowed him a bit in re­cent years and made him more scarce in these parts.

Ac­cord­ing to Josh Owens in the Blue Crabs’ pub­lic re­la­tions de­part­ment, Robin­son is not ex­pected to come down from Bal­ti­more County to visit Wal­dorf on Thurs­day evening as the home team takes on the Lan­caster Barn­storm­ers (one of three other teams in which Robin­son has a stake in the league), but there will be a spe­cial birth­day trib­ute to the Hall of Famer be­tween in­nings.

Robin­son has en­joyed a happy con­nec­tion with South­ern Mary­land through the Blue Crabs for the past 10 years.

As he was ap­proach­ing his 70th birth­day a decade ago, the Blue Crabs were gear­ing up for their in­au­gu­ral sea­son. Robin­son and an en­tourage from the new ball­club went on some­thing of a barn­storm­ing tour through South­ern Mary­land to whip up in­ter­est — and sea­son ticket sales.

First, he vis­ited Patux­ent River Naval Air Sta­tion, where one lucky fan won a print of an iconic Nor­man Rock­well oil paint­ing of Robin­son au­to­graph­ing a base­ball for an ex­cited young boy. When Robin­son signed the print for the Pax con­test win­ner, the fan was amazed to see that just as in the paint­ing, the old third base­man au­to­graphed it left-handed. Though he bat­ted and threw right-handed, Robin­son is a nat­u­ral lefty — which may ac­count some­what for his leg­endary hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion in the field and at the plate.

Then, Robin­son and his Blue Crabs posse stopped at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land cam­pus in Prince Fred­er­ick. Robin­son re­galed the crowd with some old base­ball yarns he had cer­tainly spun a thou­sand times be­fore at ban­quets, rib­bon-cut­tings and county fairs, but he told those old chest­nuts with a com­pelling en­thu­si­asm that held their at­ten­tion rapt. Then, the CSM base­ball team pre­sented him with a Hawks jer­sey — of course, with No. 5 on it.

The last stop on the tour was the sta­dium it­self, where the grounds crew was lay­ing the turf on the in­field and out­field in large car­pets of sod. There, in an exclusive and ex­tended con­ver­sa­tion with this news­pa­per, Robin­son re­called high­lights of his play­ing ca­reer, and ex­pressed great zeal for the Blue Crabs and the At­lantic League. “It’s im­por­tant to keep look­ing for­ward,” he said then. “It was a great run with the Orioles, but it’s just as ex­cit­ing to see this new tal­ent de­velop and blos­som here in South­ern Mary­land. The game has changed a lot in some ways, but fun­da­men­tally, it’s the same as it’s al­ways been.”

So if you can make it to the ball­park Thurs­day to see the Blue Crabs, ex­ult with the crowd when the birth­day trib­ute for Brooks Robin­son comes around. He’s a class act, and al­ways has been.

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