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All just for fun, and the fans

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Folks, when you're talking about third base," the announcer proclaimed, "you're talking Brooks Robinson!"

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Folks, when you're talking about third base," the announcer proclaimed, "you're talking Brooks Robinson!"

Well, yes, except the Orioles Hall of Famer was at first. Oh, he still can catch the ball, the art that earned him the nickname Hoover for the way he sucked up just about every ball hit toward the hot corner or in the hole during his 23 seasons. "The arm's been bothering me for about six months. It doesn't hurt me to swing the bat or play golf. I just can't throw."

Which is why former Red Sox, Yankees and Rays star and future Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs was where Robinson would have been at Saturday night's Legends of Baseball game: in position to throw Kevin Bass' double-play grounder 25 feet over second baseman Darrell Evans into rightfield, giving the National League stars a first-inning run.

"I haven't thrown to second in two years," Boggs said, grinning. "I haven't taken infield (practice) in two years." Not that it mattered. He scored the American League's tying run in the bottom half and singled off Ron Robinson to break the tie in a three-run fifth.

Not that that mattered, either. Bass hit a two-run triple in the sixth for a tie at 4. Not that that mattered, either. Boggs charged a slow roller and threw it past first and later failed to flag down Orestes Destrade's liner just inside third in the seventh that produced three runs in the NL's 7-4 victory. Oh, and no errors were charged.

Destrade, the former Marlins first baseman, also won the home run hitting contest. He hit two down the leftfield line. The only two. Dave Parker reached the rightfield wall once. In this event, warning-track power was a compliment.

But what mattered was the fans who got to see stars they grew up with, and their children, who pleaded for autographs from players they've never heard of.

"Same thing when I was a kid," former Washington Senators pitcher Jim Hannen said. "I followed the Brooklyn Dodgers. My father took me to Ebbets Field and said, 'You got to get these guys' autographs.' George Shuba, Carl Furillo. ... I thought it as kind of silly but my father was making a big deal of it so I figured it must be important."

It is, Robinson said. "We need this every year, for the fathers. And it's continuity when the kids are involved.

"The sons always say things like, 'I thought you were dead,' or 'Did you play with Babe Ruth?' They know how to puncture that ego and bring you down."

Boggs wore a Yankee uniform. A year ago he wore Tampa Bay's. Next year, he said, maybe he'll wear Boston's. "I feel for Wade," said Robinson, laughing. "I made three errors in an inning one time, and if they'd hit two more balls at me I'd have made five. The only good thing that happened, Frank Robinson hit a home run in the ninth inning off Rollie Fingers and we won the game. You know what the headline was the next day? 'Robinson makes three errors in one inning.' "

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