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Orioles honor Brooks Robinson

BALTIMORE - The third baseman who used to regularly gun down runners from his knees after making diving stops of hot shots two-hopped the plate Saturday night when he threw out the first pitch before the Orioles-Red Sox game at Camden Yards.

No matter. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson received a warm ovation, as always.

Honored repeatedly over the years by an appreciative team and an adoring fan base, "Mr. Oriole" called Saturday's ceremony for the unveiling of his statue "my final goodbye."

Robinson was the sixth Hall of Famer honored by the team during its Legends Series. His lifesized bronze statue in the picnic area beyond the bullpens in left-center stands alongside those of Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, and Earl Weaver. Three of them were his teammates; Weaver his manager.

"I played at the right time," he said. "I played with some great players."

Only last October, Robinson, who sold out Memorial Stadium in 1977 for a "Thanks, Brooks Day" attended another statue ceremony, outside of Camden Yards. He was asked about there being two statues of him and politely corrected his questioner.

"I've got three [and] I'll probably get one in Little Rock. I told them I'm never coming back unless they give me a statue," he said, joking about his home town in Arkansas. "Very surreal when you think, those things are never going to go away."

Widely considered the greatest fielding third baseman of all-time, Robinson played parts of 23 seasons for Baltimore. The 1964 American League MVP and 1970 World Series MVP, Robinson played in 18 All-Star games and won 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, a record for a non-pitcher. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, his first year of eligibility.

He finished with 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and 1,357 RBIs, all with the Orioles. He was also beloved in Baltimore because of his interactions with fans and his work in the community, which earned him what is now known as the Roberto Clemente Award in 1972.

"Like a lot of kids from Baltimore, he was the Oriole I looked up to," Ripken said. "My mom and dad pointed him out as a guy to admire, not only for what he did on the field but for what he represented off the field."

Said Palmer: "I am so fortunate to have had him as a teammate and a friend."

Other teammates of "Brooksie" like Paul Blair, Al Bumbry, Milt Pappas and Boog Powell also turned out to honor Robinson, who still resonates with the fans 35 years after his retirement - as evidenced by the sellout crowd on Saturday night. Humble as always, Robinson said the big turnout was thanks to how well the team is playing.

"You don't think we'd have that crowd here tonight if they were 10 games out, do you?" he said.

During his remarks to the crowd, he drew the loudest cheers when he asked fans, "How 'bout them Birds?"

Robinson, who said he has seen virtually ever player who ever put on a uniform for the Orioles, still follows the team closely and is impressed by the overachieving bunch, on the verge of their first postseason appearance in 15 years.

"In all my years, I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Robinson's ceremony had originally been scheduled for May, but it had to be postponed for health reasons. Seemingly in good health and obviously in good spirits on Saturday, he said during his speech that everyone has big decisions to make in life.

"My first big decision was in 1955 after I graduated from high school," he said. "And I made the right decision ... signing with the Baltimore Orioles."

While he said Saturday's was his last "thank you" night, he was appreciative of his inclusion.

"It's wonderful for the fans to see the guys who helped make this franchise," he said. "I couldn't be happier to be out there as one of them."

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