Keeping an ongoing dialogue with fans and readers during the shutdown of baseball is important to me. Along those lines, today I have a few questions for you. We shall start with a pretty simple one but I look forward to getting the responses.
Which player is your favorite all-time Oriole and why?
Mine is Brooks Robinson. He was a star player for the Orioles in their great run from 1966 through 1971, when they played in four World Series over a six-year period. He was a star longer than that, of course. But it was sometime during that run - and I can’t pinpoint exactly when - that I became a young fan who would fall in love with that team and those players.
In Little League, I insisted to my coach that I play third base. I needed to be like Brooks. But one problem - I’m left-handed. But he put me over there one game to shut me up. I don’t think I played there again. I probably quickly realized I could not be like him in any way on a baseball field. Ever. No one could.
But I loved and still do love everything about Brooks. I loved his commentary on Orioles telecasts.
“That might get in the hole Chuck,” he’d exclaim with that Arkansas drawl to Chuck Thompson on a grounder wide of third base.
When Brooks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, I was there to cover it in 1983 as a young reporter for WFMD Radio in Frederick. What a thrill. I don’t remember much about it now, but I have a cassette tape with all the audio around here somewhere. I would never throw that out.
This brings me to my personal favorite Brooks story. And I’ve mentioned it here before, so read on if you’ve heard this one already. But that same year, the Hagerstown Suns invited Brooks to a day at their ballpark and local Frederick-Hagerstown media could come out to interview Brooks weeks before he would go into the Hall.
It rained hard that day. Remember, this was long before the Internet and social media. You had to call the team to see if the game and Brooks’ appearance were still on. I called several times and no one answered.
So, I should just stay home, I thought. Except I didn’t. Something led me to Municipal Stadium, where I was sure I would find no one present and nothing going on. But the office was open. I went in.
The game is rained out, they told me, but we think Brooks is on his way here now. You should stay and interview him. No other reporters showed up. None. It was me and about two staff members from the Suns team. In walks my childhood hero. There was Brooks Robinson. This was real. Don’t pass out now, I told myself.
Seconds later, they put the two of us in a conference room and closed the door. It was about at this time that I could barely breathe or remember my name to introduce myself. But Brooks being Brooks, I quickly realized I was around a new friend who was now telling me incredible stories about life with the Orioles. Yes, I could have stayed there through the weekend talking with him. It’s just me and Brooks, and he’s telling amazing Orioles stories.
About 30 minutes into this, I realized I never got an interview. I was hanging on his every word, but recording audio of none of them.
“Brooks,” I said to my new friend. “I forgot to interview you. My station wanted me to get an interview. But you’ve spent enough time with me. We can skip that. It has been awesome to meet you.”
Brooks being Brooks he said, no way, take the time to do your interview. We’ve got time. And he gave me a great interview. On top of the great stories. On top of being wonderful and making a scared kid feel completely at ease.
My hero was every bit as great as I had heard. Heck, better. I would never forget this afternoon and I never have. I have forgotten details of many great days covering sports but I remember a lot from that day.
Brooks is No. 1 for me and, as you could probably guess, there is no close second.
So how about you? Tell me about your favorite Orioles. Tell us some stories about why that is. While we’re at it, expand this to tell us about meeting some of your favorite Orioles. Did you get that chance? How did it go?
What did you love about those great O’s teams? For younger fans, tell us about your O’s fandom. How did it start? Who’s your favorite from recent years?
We’ll do more of these fan surveys during baseball’s down time. Because telling baseball stories and sharing them with other fans is a great thing to do.