"It was very delightful and quite an honor and I enjoyed doing it," Frank Robinson told reporters on Wednesday after throwing out the first pitch before the first postseason game played in the nation's capital in over 79 years, "and I thank the Lerner family for asking me to do it." The Hall of Fame player turned manager who guided the Montreal Expos from 2002-2004 and oversaw the move to the nation's capital in 2005 put on the no.20 he wore as a player and skipper one more time yesterday, though he said it wasn't quite the same. "Not as good as it was before," the 77-year-old Robinson joked, "but it was good. I thank Mr. Desmond for letting me put it on for a few seconds."
Desmond switched from no. 6 to no. 20 in honor of Robinson and in recognition of the role the Hall of Famer played in his career. Informed that Desmond had done it to honor him, the former Nats' manager said, "That's very nice of him to say that and he's worn it well and I [wish] him good luck with it for the future. It's quite an honor."
Before he threw out the first pitch, Robinson spoke to fans in the nation's capital, who were reportedly extremely appreciative of the significant role the one-time Baltimore Oriole and former Triple Crown winner has played in the history of baseball in the Mid-Atlantic region. "It was a very nice moment," Robinson said, "but the fans have always been nice since we got back here. That was one of the reasons it was so nice being here and managing here, because the fans were really great. And they were excited today, sure. It was nice to hear them say the nice things they had to say and I wish them well. They deserve what's happening here today."
Current Nats' skipper Davey Johnson and Robinson were teammates on the Orioles from 1966-71. They had a few minutes to talk yesterday, and Robinson said he took the time to tell Johnson he was impressed with what his old friend had accomplished in D.C. this season. "I congratulated him on a terrific year," Robinson told reporters, "and wished him well today and for the future. And he'll do alright. He's done alright everywhere he's been and it's no surprise here."
After managing in Montreal from 2002-2004, Robinson moved with the franchise to the nation's capital and helped reintroduce baseball to Washington, D.C. with an amazing first-half of the '05 season in which the Nationals held first place in the NL East longer than most people expected. "It was exciting times when we came here," Robinson said, "and the two years we spent here. Especially the first half of the first year. It was great and it was exciting and it was good for the fans because people were saying that baseball wouldn't go here with the Orioles just down the way, and I told them they were wrong from the beginning. When I was in Montreal and thinking about coming here, I said, 'These are great baseball fans here and if you put a good product out there they'll come out and root for the team.' It's great. It's great to see this and it's well-deserved."
To see the Nationals in the postseason, with a full park and dedicated fans is what those who helped bring baseball back envisioned when they returned to the nation's capital. "That's what we hoped," Robinson said, "We'd like to have done it and we thought we had a good chance of doing it in '05, the first year. We had a terrific first-half and someone turned the switch off when we went to break and a different team came back after the break, but it was fun the first half of the season."
Asked if he was surprised either by how quickly the Nationals got to this point, or alternately how long it took to build what Washington has since the team left Montreal for Washington, D.C., Robinson said firmly, "Montreal has nothing to do with this. It's what has happened since they've been here. And they knew when they got here and got new ownership and whatever that they had to rebuild the minor league system and be patient with the young players and build from within. That's the way you build a winner and that's the way you have a consistent winner and [Mike] Rizzo and his staff have done a tremendous job 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 having an opportunity to do something probably this year if not next year, so it's come a year sooner."