WASHINGTON – As postseason baseball returned to Washington for the first time in 79 years on Wednesday, the first manager in Nationals history was on hand to throw out the first pitch.
Frank Robinson, wearing his No. 20 jersey one more time, went to the mound and received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd and then threw a strike to the guy who currently wears No. 20, shortstop Ian Desmond.
“It was very delightful, quite the honor and I enjoyed doing it,” Robinson told reporters about the opportunity to throw out the first pitch.
“I thank the Lerner family for asking me to do it.”
Robinson came with the team from Montreal and in his last two seasons with the franchise, he went 81-81 in 2005 and then 71-91 in 2006. He was fired after the 2006 season but said Wednesday he always felt a return of baseball to D.C. would be a hit.
“It was exciting times when we came here,” Robinson said.
“The two years we spent here, especially the first half of the first year, it was great. It was exciting for the fans because people said baseball would never go here with the Orioles just down the way and I told them they were wrong from the beginning when we were in Montreal and they were thinking of coming here.”
The fans have responded to a winning team this year, and Robinson always felt that would happen.
“That was one of the reasons why it was so nice being here, playing here and managing here because the fans were really great. They were really excited here today sure, and they deserve it, what’s happening here today.”
What has happened with baseball here in Washington this year is special and Robinson just could say enough about the way the organization has put this team together.
“(Mike) Rizzo and his staff have done a tremendous job of rebuilding the minor league system and developing the young players and mixing in some veteran players, and the coaching staff has done an outstanding job. It came a little quicker than I thought it would but after last year, I felt good about this franchise doing something if not this year, probably next year but it came a year sooner.
In Robinson’s first season in D.C., the Nats were 50-31 after the first half of the season and that got the fans excited and there was talk at the half-way point that year of the team making a playoff run but then they went 31-50 the rest of the way.
“Of course, we would have liked to have done it and we thought we had a good chance to do it in 05 in the first year,” he said.
“We had a terrific first half and someone turned the switch off when we went to the break and a different team came back after the break but it was fun the first half of the season.”
The Hall of Famer spent six years of his career playing with current Nationals manager Davey Johnson in Baltimore. There he played on four World Series teams winning two championships and the two had a chance to chat one more time before the game.
“We just said hello. I congratulated him on a terrific year and wished him well today and for the future. He’ll do all right. He’s done alright wherever he’s been and it’s no surprise here.”
Until the Tigers Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown this year, Robinson was the last right-handed hitter to win the award in 1966 as he led the Orioles to a World Series sweep over the Dodgers. The following year, Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski took home the prize.
This season, Cabrera won it after belting 44 home runs with 139 RBI while hitting .330.
“I’m excited for Cabrera,” Robinson said. “I’m happy for him because I think people take the Triple Crown for granted and they take it too lightly. I think it’s the most outstanding thing an individual, a player, as a hitter can do.
“It’s not an easy thing. I don’t know of anybody going into spring training saying, I’m gonna win the Triple Crown. You can’t do (it) that’s why you see a big lapse in years gone by before someone wins it. What bugs me is when people start hollering in April when a guy is leading the league in all three categories