Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

May 17, 2012

Happy birthday, Brooks

— Today is Brooks Robinson’s birthday. That’s right, good ol’ No. 5 is 75 years young, a term the great Chuck Thompson used all of the time, and a term that, even as a child, drove me up the wall when Chuck would use it to send birthday greetings to somebody who had just turned 100.

But in this case you say 75 years young because thinking of Brooks Robinson, the greatest third baseman of them all, brings to mind the comfort and delight of being young. For it was every May 11 of my childhood (not to mention right up to his final season as a player, which happened to be my senior year in high school), that I would send Brooks a birthday greeting of my own to 900 East 33rd Street in Baltimore. And while he never took me up on my offer of coming to Cumberland to spend a weekend at my house, he without fail sent me an autographed postcard — which he addressed himself. Whether it was “To Michael,” or, through the years, “To Mike,” it said “Brooks Robinson” at the bottom, and that was enough to make my year until it was time to write to him again.

Of course, the highlight of a lifetime came in the summer of 1969 when my uncle Mort arranged for all of the cousins to meet Brooks outside the Orioles clubhouse before a game with the Washington Senators. My cousins Lisa and Laurie were in full Orioles uniform with the No. 5 on their backs. I, being a mature old age of nine, chose not to wear my Brooks uniform (of course I had one). So naturally, when our visit was over and Brooks began to head back to the clubhouse, he turned and said, “And oh, yeah. Good luck to the two No. 5’s.”

I think he might have ordered some shoes (10-1/2 E) from my uncle, but he said nothing to me other than, “Hi, Mike. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Of course, that could have been because I was scared stiff as a board, standing in awe of my hero, the nicest man in the world, as he signed my baseball. I would be carried to my seat the way anybody would carry a 2 by 4 — over my uncle’s shoulder, my mouth still agape.

Perhaps the highlight of my newspaper career came in 1989 when Brooks was here for Al Via’s golf tournament. My job was to interview him for the newspaper, which, in a roundabout way, I did. But for two hours at that Friday night reception, as he signed a couple of hundred autographs, I stood at the bar having cocktails with Brooks Robinson, talking about everything I ever wanted to ask him, and hanging on to every word he said. And I remember thinking at that moment I was the luckiest person on the face of the earth.

Another of Brooks’ friends, and another legend in this state, J. Suter Kegg, sent Brooks the article I had written about our meeting. And about two weeks later, to my absolute shock (and happiness), I received a thank you note from Mrs. Brooks Robinson, which she had sent to Suter to give to me.

Twenty years later and nothing had changed. The U.S. Postal Service was keeping my hero and me connected.

As I approach age 53, I think about Brooks today as he arrives at 75. He’s been dealing with some health issues of late, and the unveiling of his statue at Camden Yards had to be postponed until Sept. 29. He was there, though, last October when they unveiled his statue on Washington Boulevard Plaza, and the look on his face when they dropped the veil is one of every child he ever signed an autograph for as they stood looking up to him in absolute wow-wee wonder and joy.

And Brooks, you see, deserved to have that look on his face and whatever feelings he must have been experiencing in his heart. He’s earned it every step of the way with his humble nature, his warm heart and the kindness he has shown to everybody he’s ever met.

Sure, we began to love him because he was a great baseball player, but this isn’t about baseball. This is about the goodness of a man who Gordon Beard said, “never asked anybody to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore people name their children after him.”

A city and a state fell in love with Brooks Robinson many years ago, and on the day his statue was unveiled in downtown Baltimore, choking back tears, he told the assembled crowd, “I just want you to know I have never considered you fans. I've always considered you my friends. Thank you for the way you've treated me over the years.”

So today on this day, Brooks Robinson’s birthday, let us all think of good ol’ No. 5 and send a prayer for his well being. And when we all gather with our buddies after work, let’s be sure to raise a glass and say, “No. Thank you, Brooks. Happy birthday, my friend.”

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com.

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Mike Burke - Sports
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