- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 9, 2015

Frank Robinson wore a dark suit and a red tie as the banner in right field was pulled away, revealing his name in bright red letters on the facade.

The first manager in Washington Nationals history was officially inducted into the team’s ring of honor Saturday afternoon, a little more than 10 years after he managed its first game in Washington. He chatted with old friends and former players, Nationals bullpen coach Matt LeCroy among them, before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Ian Desmond, who wears No. 20 to honor Robinson, caught it on one hop.

It was an afternoon of admiration for Robinson, the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball history and a lifelong ambassador for the sport, but also an opportunity for him to reflect on how far the franchise has come.

“It didn’t come quickly,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t a fast fix, but the organization itself has been evolving year in and year out. They’ve been getting better each year. Ownership is very good here and backs the team and puts the best players they can on the field, not just free agency, but 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. That’s what makes a consistent winner, and they’re right there now. They’re there. It’s only a matter of time. In the next few years, if not this year, you’ll see a World Series flag flying from the flagpole in center field.”

Robinson still has close ties within the organization. He was Ryan Zimmerman’s first big-league manager and overlapped with Desmond at spring training. He said his relationships with them are “like family.”

Manager Matt Williams said he’s known Robinson since the late 1980s, when they were both members of the San Francisco Giants organization.

“I’ve known Frank a long time,” Williams said. “He’s done just about all you can do in the game, from playing to managing to working with the office in MLB to being an MVP in both leagues. He’s done everything. At this point in his life, he is one of our best ambassadors in every regard.”

Robinson managed the Nationals during their first two seasons in Washington. In the years since, he has worked for the league, first under commissioner Bud Selig and now under Rob Manfred. He currently serves as MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Development.

Robinson’s role with the league doesn’t prevent him from keeping up with his old players or teams. When asked about his favorite teams, he lists four: the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres on the West Coast, and the Baltimore Orioles and Nationals on the East Coast. He said he still watches Nationals games and “I have a little stake in it.”

When asked about Bryce Harper, the team’s brightest young star, Robinson said he’s been impressed.

“Well, he had a lot of hype coming in,” Robinson said. “I remember reading a lot about him and couldn’t wait to see him. It took him a couple years to really get his feet on the ground. I think he now understands the pitchers in the league, what they’re trying to do to him and make some adjustments or whatever, and he’s the real thing. I think you’re going to see a lot of exciting things out of this young man for a lot of years.”

Williams said Robinson’s impact is still felt in the Nationals’ clubhouse, from veterans like Desmond and Zimmerman who played under him to younger players, who know only the legacy he left behind as both a player and manager.

“Our guys certainly know who Frank Robinson is, and I think that’s a testament to his longevity,” Williams said. “Even our guys who weren’t necessarily born yet when it was all over for him. They know that, and I think that’s the ultimate compliment — the fact that they know who Frank Robinson is and they know what a special person and player he is.”

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