PHILADELPHIA -- Since he was a young boy, Brooks Kriske dreamed of straddling the mound in an Orioles uniform. Not because he grew up in or around Baltimore -- far from it for the right-hander born in Arizona and raised in Southern California. But his Oriole roots still run super deep.
Kriske’s father, Garrett, admired Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson enough to name his only son after the legendary third baseman. A mutual friend of Garrett and Robinson connected them when Brooks Kriske was young, and an unlikely friendship between their families formed. It persists through the present day, when the now-27-year-old made his Orioles debut in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
“Every year, we’d go out to eat and he’d come out to my practices,” Kriske said. “We always kept in touch that way.”
Kriske is far from the only person named after Robinson. But after recording a key out in the seventh inning Wednesday, he is believed to be the first to grow up and play for the Orioles. Unlike Robinson’s other namesakes, Brooks Kriske has known “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for most of his life.
How is that possible?
More than four decades since Robinson retired after the 1977 season, the Hall of Famer, now 84 and a special advisor for the Orioles, still resides in Baltimore County and remains the area’s most revered living sports figure. But he and his wife spent lots of time over the years in California, where they first met the Kriske family, and eventually, took to visiting them regularly.
When Brooks Kriske was 9 years old, Robinson attended one of his youth team’s practices and hit fungos. The Kriske family attended the 2005 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown as Robinson’s personal guests. Years later, Robinson called Garrett with congratulations when Brooks Kriske made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 2020, which came after parts of four seasons in the Minors. The story came full circle when the Orioles claimed Kriske off waivers on Sept. 16.
His team debut Wednesday came after the Phillies scored twice off Conner Greene in the seventh to jump ahead in a game Keegan Akin and Zack Wheeler spent dueling for the first five innings. Kriske retired Andrew McCutchen, his only batter, on a foul pop to strand two runners. He was then replaced by left-hander Fernando Abad to begin the eighth, after Bryce Harper’s outfield assist at the plate thwarted Baltimore’s potential game-tying rally in the top half.
The loss sent the Orioles back to Baltimore for their final homestand of the year, a seven-game slate against the Rangers and Red Sox. Robinson was a regular presence at Oriole Park as recently as 2019, but the pandemic and physical issues -- he is currently recovering from a broken arm -- have limited his on-site appearances this season. For Kriske, reconnecting comes with the possibility of playing in front of his namesake at some point. He’d relish the opportunity.
“Hopefully I’m able to meet up with him in the coming days,” Kriske said. “He’s so humble and gracious. He’s a gentleman. That’s what every person who comes across him has said. I try to take those traits -- treating everyone the right way, being a good teammate and being the best person I can be all the time.”