Former Washington Nationals' manager Frank Robinson threw out the first pitch before the first postseason baseball game in D.C. in 79 years in October of 2012. He talked then about the job the Nats did to build the organization up the right way after the move from Montreal.
"[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," Robinson said.
"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."
The Nationals took the NL East in 2012, but lost the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games, then won their second division crown in three seasons last summer only to bow out in a four-game loss to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Robinson was back in the nation's capital on Saturday afternoon for "Frank Robinson Day" in Washington, D.C., which saw the Nationals add Robinson's name to the "Ring of Honor" as a way of honoring his contribution to the franchise.
Photo © Tom Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
Robinson managed the Montreal Expos from 2002-2004 and the Nationals in 2005 and 2006, the last two years of his 16-year, second career as a major league skipper, after a Hall of Fame-worthy 21-year career as a major league slugger.
His name is now featured on the facade below the second deck in Nationals Park which wraps around the ballpark.
Robinson talked to reporters on Saturday about being genuinely moved by the gesture on the Nationals' part.
"It's important to me because it makes me feel... wanted a little bit, appreciated," the 79-year-old Robinson said.
"I'll always have a special place in my heart [for this team]. I watch a lot of the Nationals games and I have a little stake in it with [Ryan] Zimmerman still here and Ian Desmond was in our spring training our first year, then he disappeared on me for about six years. I was thinking he was out of baseball then all of a sudden I'm watching the game and there he is in the lineup here. I think he's one of the nicest kids I've ever had to manage, and I'm really happy for him."
Desmond changed his number to 20 in 2012 to acknowledge Robinson's role in his own development.
Robinson joked Saturday that he only offered advice if asked at this point, though he did say he talked to Desmond.
"I was asking Ian 'What's [with] all these errors?' He said, 'That's just a tough stretch. That's gone now.'"
Asked again about the growth of the franchise over the years, and the Nationals' recent success, Robinson talked about the big changes he's seen since his time on the bench.
"I think it just goes to show you what's happened here over the years. It didn't come quickly. It wasn't a fast thing. But the organization itself has been evolving year in and year out, they kept getting better each year. Ownership is very good here, and backs the team to put the best players they can on the field. Whether it's free agency or through the minor league system. I think that's the biggest thing here: this organization has built up a tremendous minor league system to the point that when they really kind of need a player because of an injury or something they can go to the minor leagues. They don't have to make a trade or anything like that. And that's what makes a consistent winner."
Robinson is one of many observers of the game who thinks something special is going on in Washington.
"They're right there now. They're there. It's only a matter of time. And in the next few years, if not this year, you're gonna see a World Series flag flying from the flagpole in center field. "