The "Outta Leftfield" Weblog

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The class and grace of Robin Roberts

It was in the mid-1990s and Robin Roberts was appearing at an autograph signing event, the proceeds of which would benefit something called the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in the little central Illinois town of Nokomis, a spot on the map just outside the state capital of Springfield.
Named after National Baseball Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley, Red Ruffing and Ray Schalk, the museum honors people from the central Illinois area who have contributed to baseball in some significant manner.
Roberts, the Hall of Fame Phillies pitcher, was born in nearby Springfield and would occasionally go back to his hometown area for events such as this one.
The weather was uncomfortably hot that day, like many summer days in central Illinois. The small museum — which lacked air conditioning — couldn’t accommodate the overflowing crowd that a hall of famer, and a local boy at that, had drawn. Fans eager for Roberts’ signature had crowded toward the table where he sat, making it even hotter and more uncomfortable than it already was.
I had met Mr. Roberts a few times before that day in the museum. At that point in my career, I had no idea I would move from central Illinois to the Philadelphia area and would have many more occasions to be in his company and interview him for stories I was writing.
Like that day in Illinois, Mr. Roberts always handled himself with grace and class, even under trying circumstances. He signed every autograph request, and it became quite a windfall for the tiny museum out in the middle of nowhere. I remember thinking at the time that the ex-player was the epitome of grace under pressure.
Once I moved out here, Mr. Roberts would occasionally show up in the Ambler area, mostly in October for a golf outing at Limekiln Golf Course, owned by another Whiz Kid, Curt Simmons. Although I’m not a golfer, there were a few occasions before tee-off where I got sit in the golf course clubhouse and listen to some baseball stories.
I crossed paths again with Mr. Roberts at the National Constitution Center in 2008 when it hosted a traveling exhibit from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It was there that I got a chance to interview him for a story on the exhibit that appeared in Montgomery Newspapers.
His baseball career ended in the mid-1960s and I never got a chance to see him pitch. But he was a hall of famer in every sense of the word, especially off the field. Never in the dozen or so times I was in his company did he have a cross word for anybody or refuse an autograph request.
Robin Roberts died last week in his Florida home at age 83. He was a first-class player and a first-class human being. Not only was he one of my favorite baseball players, he’s one of my favorite people of all time.

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Location: Fort Washington, Pennsylvania

Mike Morsch has been executive editor of Montgomery Newspapers since 2003. His award-winning humor column "Outta Leftfield" has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, the Suburban Newspapers of America and the Philadelphia Press Association.

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