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Robinson honored to throw out first pitch

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Robinson honored to throw out first pitch

The gait was perhaps a bit slower, the gray hair perhaps a bit thinner, the No. 20 Nationals jersey perhaps a bit more snug. But there was something both familiar and comforting when Frank Robinson walked to the mound this afternoon before a sellout crowd at Nationals Park, invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the franchise's first-ever home playoff game.

Today's game was first and foremost a celebration of the 2012 Nationals and their NL East title. But it was also a celebration of how the organization reached this point, and surely an appropriate opportunity to recognize this team's first manager.

"It was delightful, quite an honor," Robinson said later during a visit. I enjoyed doing it. And I thanked the Lerner family for asking me to do it."

Though he had made a couple of unofficial visits to Nationals Park over the last five seasons, Robinson had never formally returned or appeared on the field in front of fans, the result of lingering resentment over his firing at the end of the 2006 season by former general manager Jim Bowden and former team president Stan Kasten.

Members of the current Lerner family ownership group have maintained a cordial relationship with Robinson, though, and chose this event to invite him back.

The 77-year-old Hall of Famer broke out his old jersey number and was greeted with a rousing ovation from the crowd when he stepped to the mound and then threw a floating strike to shortstop Ian Desmond, who this spring changed his uniform number from 6 to 20 in part to honor Robinson.

"He's worn it well," Robinson said.

After relocating with the MLB-owned franchise from Montreal after the 2004 season, Robinson guided the inaugural Nationals to an 81-81 record and a mid-season playoff run that faded down the stretch. They didn't reach the .500 mark again until this season, drawing more fans than they had since that 2005 campaign at RFK Stadium.

Robinson isn't surprised in the least by the local support for a winning ballclub.

"It was an exciting time when we came here, and the two years we spent here, especially the first half of the first year, it was great," he said. "It was exciting. And it was good for the fans, because there were people that were saying that baseball wouldn't go here with the Orioles just down the way. And I told them they were wrong from the beginning. When we were in Montreal and thinking about coming here, I said these are great baseball fans here. Put a good product out there and they'll come out and root for the team. It's great. It's great to see this. It's well-deserved."

The Nationals will dip into the D.C. baseball history well again tomorrow afternoon. Former Senators slugger Frank Howard is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others