Day with No. 5 sweet way to mark time



September 23, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

TILGHMAN ISLAND - On a scale of 1 to 5, Charlie Smith's early Christmas present to his best friend was a solid 5. That would be No. 5, as in Brooks Robinson.

Wednesday morning, just before the sun came peeping over the Chesapeake Bay, Smith watched with obvious pleasure as Phil Price met his lifelong idol for a day of fishing.

Was Price excited? The 55-year-old marina operator tried being a cool grownup for about a nanosecond, but as his sneakers hit the deck of Capt. Buddy Harrison's boat and Robinson stepped forward to high-five him, Price was, well, like a kid on Christmas morning.

"This is the greatest," said Price, who was wearing an Orioles jersey with No. 5 on it.

It was a Kodak moment for Price, who in his excitement forgot to bring a camera.

As Harrison eased his boat out of Dogwood Harbor, Price and his friends settled down to swap fishing and baseball stories with Robinson.

Running down the bay, Harrison roared past the famous Sharps Island Light, with its pronounced tilt, before anchoring at The Gooses, one of the prime striped bass fishing grounds.

It wasn't long before hooks were baited, lines were over the side and Harrison's fried chicken was making the rounds.

Robinson, 64, fielded questions as smoothly as he did playing the hot corner during the Orioles' heydays.

Toughest pitcher? The Hall of Famer named right-hander Earl Wilson, who played for the Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, as one.

Pressure? "Some guys handle it better than others," Robinson said. "During the season, you give away some at-bats, but during the playoffs, each one counts.

"I remember in 1969, I had just one hit in the [World] Series. Then in the 1970 Series, on the first hit of the game from the first batter, it's a 24-hopper to me. I picked it up and threw high to first. I'm thinking, `Man, here we go again.' But everything was upbeat after that and I ended up being the Series MVP," he said, smiling.

He seemed surprised when someone mentioned that this was the week 46 years earlier when he played his first game in the majors. Robinson went 2-for-4 as the Orioles beat the Washington Senators, 3-1.

"I called home after the game and said, `The major leagues are my cup of tea. I should have been up here sooner.' Then I went 1-for-18 and learned a valuable lesson," he said.

The sun warmed the boat and all of a sudden Robinson's rod bent toward the water.

After a minute or so of cranking down, Robinson hauled his catch to the surface: a Budweiser can slipped on the 3/0 hook by his new fishing buddies while he was distracted telling stories.

But Robinson got the last laugh, landing a 19 1/2 -inch rockfish just before 9 a.m.

Not to be outdone, Robinson's son, Brooks David Robinson, landed a 23-inch striper.

The younger Robinson poked gentle fun at his father's low-tech ways, noting that he only recently got a cell phone (he still doesn't know the number) and is without a computer - for now.

"One day he'll go away on a trip for a couple of days and come back and I'll have him all set up," said the son, a vice president with Morgan Stanley.

Replied Robinson: "How do you just sit in front of it? I don't have the time for that."

That's the way the rest of Price's Christmas present went - a little fishing, a hunk of fried chicken washed down with a cold one, a little storytelling.

And all the fun went for a good cause.

Harrison's church, St. John's Chapel, is trying to pay for restoration of the 110-year-old sanctuary. But because membership has dwindled to about 25, it's tough to write the checks.

For the past two Decembers, parishioners have held fund-raising auctions, with the top money-maker being the fishing trip with Robinson.

"Brooks is a good friend. He and his boys have been fishing with me for years. He said anything he could do to help, he would," Harrison said.

Last year, it came time for the auction of the fishing trip. Knowing how much Price wanted the trip, Smith kept raising his bid. But another angler wanted the trip almost as badly and matched Smith bid for bid.

Suddenly, the other fellow was distracted for a moment and before you could say, "Robinson to Powell for the out," the trip was sold to Smith for ...

Well, being Tilghman Islanders and this being a Christmas present, lips were sealed. It wouldn't be polite.

And about that distraction? Buddy Harrison will only wink and grin.

Back at the dock, Robinson posed for a round of pictures. His son asked a photographer to snap one of him with his dad, and the two men clasped their arms around each other.

Robinson was asked how he handled the last two weeks of his career in 1977, and about the differences between his final games and the ones Cal Ripken is now playing.

"It was different for me. They needed to make a spot on the roster for [catcher] Rick Dempsey and I told them to sit me down," he recalled. "It was good that I was going to be the broadcaster the next season because I knew that I'd be going to the same places and seeing the same people. If I had had to go back to Little Rock, that would have been different.

"You think when you're young, you can play forever. And then you find out you can't," he said, without a hint of sadness.

Even after eight hours on the water and with a two-hour drive home ahead of him, Robinson still stopped on the way to his car to sign baseballs, slips of paper and one No. 5 jersey.

"I can't wait to see what Brooks wrote," said a bubbling Price, clutching the jersey in his hand. "But I'm going to wait until tomorrow to look. That way the present will last another day."

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