This is a weird day for me, and probably many other similar-aged people, boys especially, who grew up in Baltimore in the 1960s and 70s. My childhood hero, Brooks Robinson, turns 80 today. 80! I knew that one day Brooks would no longer be playing third base for the Baltimore Orioles because I knew that I would be the one replacing him. Half of that knowledge proved accurate. But Brooks was never going to grow old, and while I was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to grow old either. Neither of those beliefs proved accurate.
Brooks played for the Orioles for 23 seasons beginning in 1955, so he was always there during my entire childhood. When I first began to comprehend the world, around the age of seven or eight, I quite naturally made the mistake of believing that this is the way the world has always been and the way it always will be. I always enjoyed history even at that age, but I viewed it about the same way that I viewed a movie: It wasn’t quite real. Then, somewhere in adolescence, I began to realize that change is a constant. My friend from 4th grade was not my friend in 10th grade who was somebody I had never met before. My parents were getting older. Some of their friends had died. I was changing, but through it all there was Brooks. Even as his talent diminished, even when he retired it didn’t matter because he was now a fixture, a great Touchstone to all that had been wonderful about growing up. In fact, when he did retire in 1977, I had met this girl named Martha, and we went to “Thanks, Brooks Day” at Memorial Stadium. Then my wife, Martha, and I attended the night in1983 when he was honored for his Hall of Fame induction, and of course, we attended the ceremony in Cooperstown. And when we were expecting our two children, there was no question what his name would be if indeed, the baby turned out to be a “he.”
People used to say that Brooks was “a magician” with the glove, which was true in that sports columnist kind of way, but he possesses a far greater magic than that. He can make my childhood reappear.
I “met” Brooks Robinson when I was seven; actually did meet him when I was eight and got his autograph several times since then. I regard all of those times as highlights of my life. What endears Brooks to so many of us is not just the Hall of Fame talent and the fact that he is a nice guy, but that he seems to take a genuine interest in each one of us. If we were all half as decent as Brooks Robinson, it would be a Hall of Fame world.