- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thursday should have been a great baseball day in the Baltimore-Washington area. Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank Robinson were in the house.

But they weren’t in places that felt like home. They don’t feel welcome here, and local baseball is the worse for it.

Brooks Robinson was at a press conference at, appropriately enough, the Sports Legends of Camden Yards museum to announce he was becoming a partner in the successful minor league operation of Peter Kirk and company. The group owns three Atlantic League independent minor league teams and will have a fourth next season in Waldorf, Md., with a new parent company called Opening Day Partners that will oversee those teams and future expansion.

“He is the class act of baseball, and to have him associated with us is fantastic,” Kirk said.

Brooks was within a few steps of the building where the franchise he played for in his 23-year playing career — the Baltimore Orioles — is headquartered. But he now feels so estranged from the organization that he wouldn’t even participate in a 50th anniversary recognition two years ago marking the start of his professional baseball career.

A few hours later, at the District’s George Washington University, Frank Robinson was being honored by the Jackie Robinson Society with the first George Washington Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award for “his contributions to baseball and our nation.” Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The award means that people think I did something special during my life that is worthy of this award,” Frank said. “It’s particularly special to me because it is the first time they have given this award, and with the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking in, it means even more than to just be honored. It is named for a very special person who meant so much to my career and me being in baseball.”

Frank Robinson was being honored for his baseball contributions a mile or so from the headquarters of the Washington Nationals, who couldn’t find a place for him despite three years managing the franchise in Montreal and two years in Washington. He also was within a 40-minute drive of the city where he helped lead the Orioles to four pennants and two World Series championships in six years.

The two men involved in the celebrations have managed to become estranged instead of embraced by their former teams.

It was appropriate Brooks and Frank were both being recognized on the same day in the region that meant so much to both.

“I couldn’t think of a better guy to share the day with,” Brooks said. “We had a lot of fun together here. He deserves that honor. I got to meet Jackie [Robinson] several times at different golf tournaments, and he was a wonderful guy. It is a real tribute to Frank, and he earned it.

“I think the world of Frank. I was disappointed with the way the Washington club treated him when they fired him as manager, how they didn’t let him know anything [and] that he would not be part of the organization. Someone of his stature should never be treated that way. That hurt me when I saw what happened there, the way they went about it. But that’s the way people treat each other in baseball. No one returns phone calls, I can tell you that. No one returns phone calls.”

Any guesses who Brooks was talking about?

Frank, who now works for Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, said it felt great to be back in Washington.

“The two years I managed here was special because the fans and the people in the community made it that way,” he said. “I had good times here. It is nice to be back.”

Later he would tell the crowd on hand for the ceremony that he didn’t want to stop talking because “I don’t want to leave town.”

He doesn’t know when he will be back. The Nationals had planned on having a Frank Robinson Day next month to honor him, but Frank remains hurt by the way he was let go and because he was not offered what he felt was an important role in the organization. When asked about the status of the icy relations Frank now has with the Lerner family/Stan Kasten ownership and its current baseball administration, Frank said, “No change.” When asked whether he expected any, Frank replied, “No.”

A few minutes later, sitting 12 seats away in the front row for the ceremony honoring Frank, was Mark Lerner, a George Washington graduate whose father and fellow alumnus, Ted, was named in January to the inaugural class of the GW School of Business Sports Executives Hall of Fame.

Frank said he still follows the team closely.

“Of course I pay close attention to them,” he said. “I have a special investment in that team. You just don’t break it off like that. There are players there who I had a very special relationship with. They are struggling right now, and I feel for them and wish them well. They will get better. They have some young players, and they are dealing with some injuries and things are not clicking, but they will get it together.”

When Frank’s daughter, Nichelle, who was at George Washington on Thursday, heard about Brooks’ press conference in Baltimore earlier that day, she called him “Uncle Brooks,” and Frank’s face lit up. Then he asked jokingly, “Do they need a manager?”

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