By Keith Mills
As Brooks Robinson walked to the podium, a collective sense of awe fell over the sixth floor of the Camden Yards warehouse.
Health issues had prevented Robinson from attending the press conference announcing the teams for the Brooks Robinson All-Star Baseball Classic the last three years. But there he was, just days away from the 2013 game, ready to address 30 of the premier players in the state.
"It was an awesome experience," Calvert Hall's Alex Murphy said. "He got up there and talked to all of us like he was our best friend, like he's known us for years. It was an incredible experience."
South River's Scott Mitchell said it was a big deal to meet Robinson.
"I never saw him play," Mitchell said, "but talking to my grandfather and all of the older fans who know baseball, they say he was the best third baseman who ever lived. He's a legend. He is Baltimore."
Murphy and Mitchell obviously weren't alive when Robinson was winning Gold Gloves and helping the Orioles win World Series championships. But through their parents, grandparents, videos, stories and the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game, the current players feel as much of a bond to Robinson now as the players did in 1982, when the Maryland State Baseball Coaches Association first put on the senior showcase.
It was called the Crown All-Star Game then, and was played at Memorial Stadium, with Robinson involved. Then he was a spokesman for Crown Petroleum, which his friend Henry Rosenberg ran.
Now, Robinson is a business partner and friends with Joe Geier, the president of the Geier Financial Group, which saved the game from being canceled nine years ago and has been its primary sponsor ever since.
Geier, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph, once worked for local attorney and player representative Ron Shapiro and has an extensive connection to Major League Baseball. Among his clients are Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and Mount St. Joe alum Mark Teixeira.
Geier has also been an advocate for amateur sports in the area and baseball in particular.
"We couldn't do this without the Orioles and Joe Geier," said Eastern Tech baseball coach Ty Whittaker, the vice president of the MSABC. "They have been very supportive, and without the Geier Financial Group, this game would not happen."
Geier's involvement meant Robinson would remain the face of the game, which was played for the 32nd time June 2 after the Orioles beat the Tigers at Camden Yards. The game was called because of rain in the third inning and will be replayed at 2 p.m. June 4.
"I congratulate all of you for making it to this point," Robinson said as he addressed the players and parents at the May 30 press conference. "And whatever you do in baseball, however far you get, make sure you give something back to the game. The game was very good to me, and I will never forget the people who helped me along the way. Try and do the same and give back."
Chesapeake head coach Kenny King, the director of the All-Star Classic, said he was appreciative of Robinson's message and presence.
"Having the namesake here puts legitimacy on all the things we do and it shows the kids people do care about them," King said. "I loved his message: to give back. Well, Brooks lives it. He lives of what he speaks."
Robinson, meanwhile, said the event was great for the kids.
"You never know, some of these kids may play for Orioles one day," he said. "But if they can go and play in college, that's a big deal. Myself, Joe Geier and his group, we're just glad to be a small part of it."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter and center fielder Adam Jones watched a few innings of the game June 2. Many of the graduating seniors participating in this year's game have played at Camden Yards before, throughout showcase tryouts and other Orioles-related events. Gilman's Matt Tilley has actually played on the field twice, through the President's Cup game, which is held in early April.
The Greyhounds played Mount St. Joe two years ago and Archbishop Curley this year. Tilley will play his college baseball next year at the College of William & Mary.
Murphy and Mitchell are also set to play in college, though both could get selected during the June 6 amateur draft. Murphy, who led Calvert Hall to the MIAA A Conference championship last month, is set to go to Wake Forest, though the Orioles are one of many teams interested in the Cardinals' senior catcher.
Showalter and Orioles mid-Atlantic Scout Dean Albany watched Murphy closely the first two innings of the June 2 game and again June 3 as part of the team's pre-draft workout at Camden Yards for select college and high school players.
"It's always been the dream to play here at Camden Yards for the Orioles," said Murphy, who was joined by Calvert Hall teammates Ron Farley and Robert Jones. "It's definitely a goal."
Mitchell, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, led South River to the school's first Class 4A state championship May 24 for retiring coach Kenny Dunn, who was one of the South coaches during the Brooks Robinson game.
Unlike Murphy and Tilley, Mitchell had never played on the Camden Yards diamond before.
"We're in the tunnel," Mitchell said, "and I said: 'Let's go. C'mon. Let's go see the park.' I couldn't believe it. It was just amazing."
The June 2 rain may have put a damper on the game, though it did nothing to spoil the event. From meeting Jones and Showalter before the game; watching the Orioles come back to beat the Tigers, 4-2; and meeting Brooks Robinson, the all-star showcase was once again a grand slam for the players.
"When Brooks walks in a room," Whittaker said, "he touches everyone. It was an electric moment."
King said he thought more fathers had taken pictures of Robinson than kids.
"When I told my dad Brooks was here," King said, "his chin just dropped."
Mitchell chimed in about meeting Robinson as well.
"The reality of the moment hit me later," Mitchell said. "I said to myself, 'I just met Brooks Robinson.' Are you kidding? How cool was that?"
Murphy said it had been an honor to make the team.
"You hear about it all four years you're in school," he said. "Coming in as a freshman, you hear about it from the seniors who play in the game. You always strive to get here."
Here are the rosters for both the North and South teams.
Trevor Houck (pitcher, Westminster)
Alex Kennedy (pitcher, Catoctin)
Seth Schubert (pitcher, Catoctin)
Bruce Zimmerman (pitcher, Loyola)
Joey Johnson (catcher, Catoctin)
Alex Murphy (catcher, Calvert Hall)
Pat Hisle (infielder, Walt Whitman)
Jay Patti (infielder, Hereford)
Brady Policelli (infielder, Walkersville)
Conor Reynolds (infielder, Loyola)
Andrew Yacyk (infielder, North Hagerstown)
Michael Cuda (outfielder, Quince Orchard)
Ron Farley (outfielder, Calvert Hall)
Robert Jones (outfielder, Calvert Hall)
Matt Tilley (outfielder, Gilman)
Adam Leader (Reservoir)
Dave Warrenfeltz (Williamsport)
Ryan Wolfsheimer (Dulaney)
Joey Benitez (pitcher, Archbishop Spalding)
Chase Brewis (pitcher, Riverdale Baptist)
Scott Mitchell (pitcher, South River)
Taylor Stiles (pitcher, Bishop McNamara)
Zack Howeth (catcher, St. Michael's)
Tommy LaBriola (catcher, Huntingtown)
Carl Colbert (infielder, DeMatha)
Connor Hax (infielder, Bishop McNamara)
Zach Piazza (infielder, Huntingtown)
Josh Wyatt (infielder, J.M. Bennett)
Joe Zyatz (infielder, Oakland Mills)
Connor Cox (outfielder, South River)
Bradley Keith (outfielder, DeMatha)
Raekwon Sample (outfielder, Parkside)
Zachary Snell (outfielder, LaPlata)
Ken Dunn (South River)
Jay Fenoglietto (J.M. Bennette)
Ryan Terrill (Riverdale Baptist)
Posted June 3, 2013