Brian Schneider and Chad Cordero both played in Montreal before the Expos made the move to the nation’s capital, and when they did, Frank Robinson, who’d managed them during the final years for the franchise in Canada, made the move to Washington, D.C., becoming the Nationals’ first manager.
Robinson talked often about that first season in RFK Stadium, when the Nationals shocked the baseball world in the first-half, going 52-36 before the All-Star Break before faltering in the second-half in what ended up an 81-81 inaugural season.
“From day one until the All-Star Break was over, it was exciting times here,” Robinson told reporters in 2015, when he visited Nationals Park. “It’s just like a magical thing that was happening to this ballclub. The players really put the effort into it. They did all they had to do whenever we needed something late in the ball game, they got it done. I was calling my family after the game and saying, ‘We won another one,’ and they said, ‘We know’.”
“It was exciting. The only thing that I regret is that we weren’t able to finish it off.
“I would have loved to finish it off for the fans here and this organization, and it didn’t happen, but I’m very proud of that team.”
Robinson, sadly, passed away back in February, after battling cancer for years, but no one who played with or for the Hall of Famer could avoid being changed by their time with the baseball legend.
“For myself, I loved playing for Frank,” Brian Schneider, the one-time Expos and Nationals’ catcher told reporters when he came to D.C. to catch former Nats’ closer Chad Cordero’s first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series last night.
“Frank got the most out of you, if you let him,” Schneider added.
“For myself I always said I wanted to play hard for Frank and play the right way because I wanted him to respect myself as a ballplayer.
“For what he’s done for the game, what kind of player he was and person he was, I know I respect him, a lot of people did. That’s why he’s in the Hall. But with that said, I want him to respect me, too. How do you do that?
“You go out and play the game the right way, play hard and do things as a team. He got the most out of me, I tell you that, I played really hard for him and miss him dearly.”
“Frank was awesome,” Cordero added. The Expos’ 1st Round pick in 2003, who went on to become the Nationals’ closer from 2004-2007, recalled being awed and then empowered when he worked under Robinson.
“He was very intimidating. I remember the first time I met him, I had just got drafted out of Cal State Fullerton and they had me to go to New York to throw a bullpen.
“I knew who Frank was. My dad was a huge baseball fan, he still is. So I knew who Frank was and to have him standing about 15 feet away from me as I was throwing my bullpen made me really nervous. I think I threw 20 pitches and I think 19 of them were in the dirt because I was so nervous because I was in the presence of a Hall of Famer. That was first time I’d had a chance to do that. But Frank was amazing. He gave me my first chance and kind of stuck with me.
“I remember I was struggling a little bit in 2004 and we were still in Montreal with walks and stuff.
“And he just told me, he brought me in the office, and told me he had a lot of confidence in me.
“And I remember the one piece of advice he gave me was, he’s like, ‘No matter how long you’re in this game, you’ll learn something new every day.’
“And this is coming from a Hall of Famer, someone who’s been in the game for 50 years. If he said that and he’s still learning something new, I was like I can do the same thing. And that really stuck with me.
“I tell the kids that I coach now that same thing. Frank was an amazing person. I know he was kind of hard-headed and stuff, kind of expected a lot out of you.
“But if you played hard he was your biggest fan. For myself and Brian, we both gave it everything we had. And that’s all he wanted.”