Happy Birthday to my first and really ONLY sports hero.
Oh, I loved and admired Ali, but I never wanted to “be” like him.
Brooks Robinson, who celebrates his 81st birthday today, carried himself with grace, dignity, and class.
I wanted to be like him, even though I would never have his talent.
I wanted to carry myself with dignity and decorum and hoped that if I ever were successful..that those qualities I saw in Brooks, I would try to embody myself, if I could.
From the time I was 5 years old, I knew he was the player who would be at the center of my sports universe.
By the time I was 18, and he was almost retired, I saw him “Up Close”.
I’ve mentioned here that I was batboy for the Baltimore Orioles for a few years during the late 60’s and 70’s.
It was a gateway to Brooks Robinson,I thought…. getting to meet him, getting to know him, and maybe, just maybe, becoming a, dare I say “friend” of Brooks’?
On my very first day as an Oriole batboy, Brooks Robinson, the first player in the Oriole clubhouse(sometimes ahead of the clubhouse “cubbies”) in the locker room, walks into the tiny dressing room I had.
‘Hey partner’..whats your name’?
I looked up from what I was doing…and saw Brooks with his hand extended to me.
It took my breath away.
Then, after I stammered and remembered my name, he said “Partner…wanna play some pepper”?
For those who don’t know…”pepper” is a simple game of hit and field.
For the next 30 minutes, a goofy, awkward kid from Miami is playing ball with his only sports hero.
“Don’t stab at it partner, look the ball in”, he said.
Brooks Robinson was giving ME fielding pointers.
I eventually caught my breath again and for the next several months I would ride “shotgun” on the buses going to away games in the Spring with Brooks Robinson.
We talked, but he was so friendly and interested in me, I could barely say anything at all.
He just radiated positiveness and goodness.
Brooks NEVER dissed.
He was always the gentleman of the team and the team had a lot of profane, bad mannered types.
Brooks authentically lived the perception people have of him.
He exuded the best of sportsmanship, cheerfulness, positiveness.
I mustv’e watched him field 10,000 ground balls in the spring.
He never took time to goof off when he was “working”.
Then I left the team to go to college.
One night the Orioles were playing my college team, Miami, in a Spring exhibition game.
I was the baseball play by play announcer on college radio with my buddy Gary Chrisman.(Who is still doing it today and is one of the best in the business)
Brooks Robinson comes to the plate and hits a home run… as Gary and I were calling the game.
I can say in my lifetime, I called a Brooks Robinson home run on a radio broadcast.
More years went by, Brooks went to the Hall of Fame, and we remained close.
Brooks had some serious health issues, but thankfully he recovered.
One night, when he was ill, he asked ME to fill in for him at a major awards banquet.
I couldn’t have said yes fast enough.
An undeserved honor for me.
Then lets fast forward to 2012.
I get a phone call and see on ID…its Brooks.
“Partner”(he still only calls me partner) its Brooks Robinson(“…..like I wouldn’t know who Brooks was).
They are unveiling my statue at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and I’d like YOU to introduce me to the fans when I come to podium.
I literally looked at the phone like people do in movies with disbelief as to what I just heard.
He wanted ME of all people to dedicate his statue with HIM?
It made no sense.
Then I realized.
He didn’t want to pick one teammate or baseball person he was close with…and heres why.
Brooks cares about people’s feelings.
if he asked Earl Weaver or Frank Robinson to introduce him, maybe someone else who played with him might be hurt.
Thats the way Brooks thinks.
It is why he is a great and good man.
He picked ME.
What an honor.
The day comes.
Thousands of people are there for Brooks’ statue
I am introduced by Gary Thorne at the Oriole Park.
I walk to the podium, and Im choked up.
I almost couldn’t breathe.
This isn’t about me, its about my only sports hero.
And this is the greatest honor of my public life.
After I caught my breath,I got a few minutes to tell my hero…I loved him.
And I got to tell everyone there why.
That clip is below.
Happy Birthday Brooks Robinson…number 81.
We could sure use a ton of people like YOU on this planet.
I love you Brooks Robinson.
You’re the greatest man in sports I ever knew.