Orioles fan J.T. Fauber stopped at the iconic statue of his all-time favorite player, Brooks Robinson, as he walked into Camden Yards on Tuesday. After smiling for a photo, another fan gingerly approached — his grim face and the tears in his eyes telegraphing his message: Robinson, a baseball legend uniquely beloved in Baltimore for his glove and his spirit, had just died. He was 86.
Fauber, a 61-year-old Virginia resident, responded the only way he could: by recounting cherished memories of the Hall of Fame third baseman.
When Fauber (who played third base, he noted) and his Little League Team won their championship one year, their reward was to visit Memorial Stadium and watch the Orioles. There, for the first time, he got to witness Robinson dive into foul territory and throw out would-be base runner at first base. Even more than Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, Fauber recalled, Robinson was his favorite athlete growing up.
Decades later, Fauber got Robinson’s autograph. That baseball, forever a prized possession, still sits on his desk.
And so, stories were told at Camden Yards Tuesday evening. Less than an hour before the Orioles hosted the Washington Nationals, Robinson’s death was announced and statues of the legendary third baseman became impromptu gathering spaces. At a statue in left field, Thomas E. Kearney of Silver Spring knelt after praying. At the larger-than-life replica of him, fittingly accented by his golden glove, on Paca Street, Howard Saks posed for a photo while wearing his own Robinson jersey.
Saks has attended the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony of each Oriole inducted in Cooperstown, including Robinson.
“He was Baltimore baseball,” Saks said.
Suitably known as “Mr. Oriole,” Robinson was recalled by several fans for his outstanding and iconic play in the 1970 World Series, in which Baltimore beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games.
Chris Myers, of Richmond, Virginia, first attended an Orioles game when he was 4 years old in 1969. He recalled playing third base as a 9-year-old and, at that time, planned to take over for Robinson at the spot upon the latter’s retirement. To him, Robinson was an example of how to carry oneself.
“Brooks was the benchmark of the franchise,” said Myers, who learned while at the Eutaw Street statue that Robinson had died. “His fielding, his consistency, his personality. He showed up every day. He was kind of like Cal Ripken before Cal Ripken.”
Myers’s daughter, Emma, grew up playing softball and she, too, played third. There, a coach dubbed her “Hoover” — a moniker bestowed on Robinson for his tendencies to get everything hit his way.
“He was a great person, great player,” she said.
In the 1970s, Ken Ayars was in the Army and stationed near Washington. During that time, as Robinson, an 18-time All-Star during his 23 years with the Orioles, continued to solidify his status as the best defensive third baseman of all time, Ayars couldn’t help but become an Orioles fan.
Now a 72-year-old resident of Florida, Ayars visited Baltimore this week to attend both Sunday’s Ravens game and Tuesday’s Orioles game. Tuesday morning, he visited Robinson’s statue.
“And now he’s gone. It’s heartbreaking,” said Ayars, who wore an orange jersey emblazoned with Robinson’s name and his retired jersey number, 5.
With tears in his eyes Tuesday evening, another legendary Oriole, Jim Palmer, remembered his former teammate. Robinson won 16 straight Gold Gloves, Palmer noted, and he’d won Most Valuable Player, too. But on top of that, Palmer said, Robinson was someone to emulate, somebody to look up to.
“We were just lucky that we all had him in our lives,” he said.
Before the game, the Orioles honored Robinson and held a moment of silence. As fans entered the ballpark, they, too, memorialized Robinson — with stories of him confounding the Reds in the World Series or of “smacking a ball out of Memorial” or joking around as he signed yet another autograph.
They might not have been his teammate, as Palmer was, but they felt equally lucky to have had him in their lives.
“I miss him already,” Ayars said. “He was a great guy. I don’t think they come any better than Brooks.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Jacob Calvin Meyer contributed to this article.
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