As I started my postgame radio show on WBAL Radio last night, I knew an emotional night was coming up. As less than an hour before game time Tuesday we all got the news - the great Brooks Robinson had died at 86.
Caller after caller fondly remembered the kid from Little Rock, Ark. who long since is now thought of as Baltimore's own. But it wasn't World Series titles or Gold Gloves or great play on the diamond that they wanted to talk about.
They wanted to talk about Brooks the person. It seemed so many fans either met Robinson in person at one time or knew someone close that did. All the stories showed his warmth and kindness. His love of people. His love of O's fans. Nothing was said about a great play from the 1970 World Series against Lee May. Or all his honors or awards.
It was said that you could not find anyone to say a bad word about Brooks and that is absolutely so. Sometimes it is said about a person in kindness. Here it is said because it is so.
I have told this story a lot so bear with me one more time: The first time I truly learned about the man inside the uniform was in the summer of 1983.
That summer, on July 31, he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a first ballot Hall of Famer, who got 92 percent of the vote.
But weeks before he headed to Cooperstown, he was going to be honored on a Saturday night by the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team. I was working in radio in Frederick, Md. at the time at WFMD and was among the media invited to cover the evening's festivities while getting to interview Brooks. Already my sports hero, I would not pass up this chance.
When that Saturday arrived, it was pouring. All day. Remember this was 1983 before cell phones and before the internet. I grabbed my phone (landline of course) to ask someone from the Suns if I should still show up? No one answered. No way they will play this game and nothing to see in Hagerstown tonight I thought.
Then for some reason I decided to drive over any way. Maybe the interviews were still on. As I walked into the Suns offices, there were maybe two or three people there and I was ready to turn around and walk right back out when someone said, 'Hey Brooks is still coming.'
I was the only person who showed up for that. About a half hour later I was directed into a room, and they closed the door and there two feet away was Brooks Robinson. I could hardly speak. But about a minute later he was so nice I began to relax, actually remember my name for a minute and began a fantastic half hour conversation with Brooks about his life and Orioles' career. He could not have been nicer.
Then I looked down and he could see the unhappy look on my face. He asked what was wrong and I mentioned that I had been sent to interview him and here we had already talked for 30 minutes, and I never even turned my tape recorder on.
I thanked him for spending so much time with me and got ready to walk out.
"Hey, we still have time for an interview. Grab that recorder," he said.
And Brooks showed me the kindness that day he showed so many before and after that day. I left that afternoon feeling great. My hero was really a hero - he was truly as wonderful as I had heard.
It made me feel good last night when a couple of young media members told me they had taken time to call their dads. They knew that would be important last night. They knew we had lost so much more than a great ballplayer.
The kid from Little Rock will always be a Baltimore legend.
We got to know him because of his greatness between the lines. We came to love him forever because of his greatness outside of them.
From the Orioles: All who wish to remember Brooks Robinson are invited to visit the Brooks statue inside The Yard at Legends Park. Access will begin (today) and continue daily through Sunday from 7:00 a.m. until four hours prior to first pitch. Access to Brooks’ statue will then re-open during regular game hours. Mourners are asked to enter via Camden Street.