December 5, 2023

Gold Glove, Golden Memories: So long, Brooks

September 27, 2023 by · Leave a Comment 

I have dreaded this day since I was old enough to truly appreciate the perspective that mortality brings. I just heard that Brooks Robinson has died. It must be true because something is gone inside of me. Maybe the last vestiges of childhood innocence that have hung around for these 66 years. Maybe the ultimate rejection of that fantasy that somehow Life will go back to the way it was, and once again we’ll be in the early morning of our hopes and dreams.

Yes, this baseball player meant that much to a generation of Baltimoreans; a ballplayer about whom as Gordon Beard, a former AP sports writer once remarked, “Brooks never asked anyone to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore, people named their children after him.”

I once wrote Scholastic Magazine a scathing letter when they dared run an article proclaiming that Ron Santo was the best third baseman in baseball. I was personally affronted. I have gained perspective over the years, however, and I can acknowledge that George Brett was a much better hitter, Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt had more power, and yeah, Ron Santo was pretty good, too, and should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. But those guys weren’t Brooks. They weren’t Brooks.

It would not have been that hard to find somebody in Timonium or Dundalk or Fells Point or any other Baltimore neighborhood who had a better arm than Brooksie. It would have been downright easy to find someone faster than he was. It would have been impossible to find anybody nicer. I think this was Brooks’ appeal. He was that nice guy who you wanted as a neighbor, who actually looked more or less like your neighbor until someone hit a hot smash down the third base line or dropped a bunt up the third base line and suddenly!

The flash of lightning leather, the ball seemingly on its way to first before you could blink. Everyone who frequented old Memorial Stadium saw that kind of thing routinely and we still wonder, how did the neighbor guy do that? The 1966 World Series ranks as the biggest thrill for us old Oriole fans, but that 1970 World Series was personally joyous. What? You didn’t know our buddy could do that? We’ve been cheering that for years. That’s just Brooks. Our Brooks.

I first “met” Brooks Robinson in 1965 when he came to the Carroll Manor recreation baseball program as the honored guest for the Opening Day ceremonies. My father took some shaky, silent home movies of this star with the host of little planets swirling around him. He signed everything thrust in front of him and I remember him joking “I think some of these kids are coming back for seconds!” I know I got my glove AND my 1965 Official Orioles Yearbook signed that day.

My parents took me to Brooks Robinson Night that year, when he was honored for winning the 1964 American League MVP. My fiancé and I attended Thanks Brooks Day when he retired in 1977. That same girl, now my wife, went to Brooks Robinson Hall of Fame Night in 1983, as well as to the induction ceremony in Cooperstown. Fifteen years later or thereabouts, we took photos of our two daughters flanking the #5 statue at Camden Yards. Tonight, we’re sitting here in tears.

That first time I met Brooks I was eight and he was 28. Now I’m 66 and he’s gone. How could that happen? I understand the biology of it, I just can’t comprehend it.

Our younger daughter Sarah called us with the news. She didn’t want me to “just hear it,” but thought she should be the one to break the news. Our older daughter commiserated with me on the phone. Had either turned out to be a boy, she would have been named, “Brooks.”

The friends from my youth and I all agree that we were lucky to have Brooks as a hero while we were growing up. As of today I guess, we’re all grown up.

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