The theme meandered through the years, from his stint as an 18-year-old in Major League Baseball to playing Cuba in 1957 and then to the Orioles clubhouse Saturday as an 85-year-old. Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson’s words all came back to the same idea, no matter how many twists it took to get there: He loves baseball.
Even more, he loves baseball in Baltimore, the city he has called home full-time since 1960. As he watches the Orioles surge to levels they haven’t reached since before the latest rebuild began in 2018, that love swells.
That’s the crux of the message he delivered pregame Saturday to the current Orioles, invited into the clubhouse to shed his wisdom gained through a life of baseball — with more than a few stories interwoven.
On that offseason spent playing in Cuba: “I had a great time. It was a beautiful place. [Fidel] Castro was in the mountains. In fact, we had several bombs go off around the ballpark. Took my car over and I was glad to get home.”
On his first game as an 18-year-old Oriole: “I went 2-for-4, knocked in a couple big runs. Headed back to the Southern Hotel and called my mom and dad and said, ‘Mom, Dad, guess what? First game, 2-for-4 and knocked in a big run. Man, this is my cup of tea.’ Then I went 0-for-18 and struck out 10 times to end the season.”
And then most pressing of all, he told the assembled clubhouse what watching this current iteration of the Orioles has been like: “You absolutely have been thrilling me. I watch all the games and you’ve been thrilling the people of Baltimore. They’ve been waiting for this for a while, and it really is something.”
It really is something for one of the most heralded Orioles in history to behold what this group is achieving, entering Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates a season-high four games above .500 and 1 1/2 games back of the wild card.
The Orioles invited former players back to Camden Yards on Saturday for an on-field celebration of the park’s 30th anniversary. There was Robinson and Eddie Murray, Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina and right-hander Rick Sutcliffe, among others. While invited, a scheduling conflict kept Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. from attending.
Robinson, attending a game at Camden Yards for the first time since 2019, knows a thing or two about enthralling baseball. He won the World Series twice with the Orioles, and with fellow Hall of Famer Murray beside him, Robinson marveled at the present and future of the organization.
“I think the people really get turned on when the club is playing like they’re playing right now,” Robinson said. “They’re really up for it. It excites me.”
In 1979, shortly after Murray became a fixture at first base for the Orioles, a 102-win season culminated with a World Series loss to the Pirates. That began what became known as “Orioles Magic,” starting with a team that wasn’t predicted to excel in such a manner reaching lofty heights.
While there has been a hint of such fortune lifting Baltimore toward an unexpected playoff spot this season, Murray stopped short of saying it was the same. It’s an exciting product, but there’s more to prove.
“They have some guys here that you’ve seen take steps. They’re definitely getting better,” Murray said. “And that’s what it takes, is to get better and for your teammates to know it. They get to see you work and go about your job — that’s what works.”
It looks as if that’s been working in Baltimore this year, and Robinson echoed what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said after the trade deadline: “I think it’s liftoff time,” Robinson said, “and I believe that.”
Robinson talked about his adventures playing winter baseball in Colombia and Cuba and his struggles against Nolan Ryan. He talked about his journey as a kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, to the big leagues in Baltimore.
But he was most expressive when his roundabout answer brought him back to the joy of watching the 2022 Orioles and all it represents for Baltimore.