By KENNETH GEE
For the Valley Press
(Hall of Fame baseball player and trailblazing manager Frank Robinson passed away on Thursday. Our reporter recalls a chance brush with greatness at a Washington, D.C., municipal golf course.)
I was determined to golf that day. So when I woke up at 7 a.m. in Falls Church, Virginia, on an already sweltering D.C.-area midsummer day, still a little woozy from a lively cocktail party the night before, I got in the car and onto Route 66 east to Langston
The lot was crowded. The clubhouse was crowded. The pro shop was crowded. Several foursomes were queued up on number one. I was recalibrating to hitting a bucket of balls when I crossed paths with a ranger in a cart. I asked if the course was going to be backed up all day.
He said probably.
I was slumping away toward the range when the guy called out to me.
“Hey, I just sent a threesome out to the back nine. If you go and pay, I’ll hook you up with them.”
Great. He even gave me a ride over.
As we approached the 10th tee, the eldest of the three guys milling around there was taking a few practice swings. When he turned around, the number 586 jumped into my head. I’m not a baseball numbers nerd, but there stood Frank Robinson. Slugger of 586 big league home runs. First ballot Hall of Famer. The man between Jackie and Brooks in the pantheon of all time great
Langston Golf Course lies in the shadow of old RFK Stadium, which was still home to the Washington Nationals on this day, Saturday, August 12, 2006. And Frank Robinson was in his last year managing the Nats. So it wasn’t completely out of left field that he’d be golfing here.
I was a Brooklynite then, visiting family in the D.C. suburb of Falls Church. I’m also a New York Mets fan, and coincidentally, the Mets were in town for a weekend series with the Nats at RFK.
After shaking hands with Eddie and Tony, his playing partners, I had an idea for an ice-breaker.
“Hey, anyone here know how the Mets did last night?”
Whereupon the only man ever to win the MVP in both the AL and the NL squinted a little and pinned me with a redoubtable stare his players were probably familiar with.
Indeed, the record shows that on Friday, August 11, 2006, Washington beat the Mets, 2-1, with Hall of Famer Tom Glavine taking the hard-luck
loss for New York.
What followed was a fairly nondescript round of golf, most notable for the Triple Crown winner’s deadpan browbeating of Eddie Rodriguez, his bench coach and Tony Beasley, his third-base coach. They played too slowly, they hit out of turn, could you guys shut up while I’m putting?
At one point Robinson jokingly, I think, said he was quitting and demanded one of his coaches drive him back to the clubhouse. After a little back and forth and some salty language, he agreed to keep playing, if Rodriguez got the hell out of his cart.
“You can ride with me,” he said, looking in my direction. “It’s too
hot to walk.”
And so for the rest of the round, I carted up with the big leagues’ first African American manager. He didn’t say too much. “Looks like you’re picking up” after a bad shot. “Where’s that swing been?” after a good drive. And he made sure I had a cold bottle of water.
When we were unloading the clubs after the round, I said, “It was an honor playing with you. And, uh, good luck with the game tonight.”
He smirked, knowing I was a Mets fan.
“Yeah, you too.”