- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

For the past couple of days, the Washington Nationals’ players heard the rumors that manager Frank Robinson would not be asked back for next season.

The players refused to believe those rumors until they heard from Robinson himself. That day came yesterday when Robinson addressed his team in a closed-door team meeting before last night’s game against the National League East champion New York Mets.

“He felt like he fell short of his dream here with the organization,” said second baseman Jose Vidro, the franchise’s longest-tenured player. “He basically wanted to have a winning season and give this town a winning team for us to celebrate big, for the city, and who knows, try and take us to the promised land. He was very upset because he wanted to be here. Other than that, we chatted a little bit about us.”

When it was over, the players gave Robinson a round of applause.

“It was kind of weird to hear him say today to continue and play hard and do the best you can for your next manager,” catcher Brain Schneider said. “When he said, next manager, that kind of hits you. It didn’t feel real good because I’ve been with him the last five years. When I think of my manager, I think of Frank Robinson as my manager. For him to say ‘next manager,’ it kind of hits you the hardest right there when he said that because you realize that in two days Frank is not going to be our manager.”

Alfonso Soriano, the Nationals All-Star left fielder, has played for Robinson only this season, but he quickly found out the 71-year-old is all business.

“I remember my second game of the season, I had a pop-up and jogged to first base and didn’t run to the base hard, and he took me out of the game,” Soriano said. “That’s the most important thing I learned from him — play hard every day. He showed me he liked the people who played hard. I have a lot of respect for him as a manager and I have a lot of respect for him as a player.”

There is also mutual respect from Robinson. Soriano asked to take last night off because he is worn down from playing 158 games. So Robinson started George Lombard in left field.

“I have very good communication with him,” Soriano said. “It’s very sad that he’s not coming back next year. This is my first time seeing my manager go.”

Robinson’s departure is probably the hardest on his hand-picked coaching staff. Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire owes Robinson his big-league start.

St. Claire spent five years in the Montreal Expos minor league system as a pitching coach before Robinson asked him to join his Expos staff for the 2003 season.

“I can’t say enough for the guy,” St. Claire said. “It hurts to see him go. I think of the opportunities that he’s given me and everything. I can’t thank him enough. Opportunities that I don’t think young coaches get.”

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