Photo credit: Chris “Effing” Gordon
Brooks Laich threw a strike.
That’s kind of his modus operandi. Ever reliable and always competent, Laich excels at pretty much everything he does. And before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles game on Monday, Laich gave time to the media on a variety of issues. He nailed that too.
In the interview, Brooks speaks at length about his fan allegiance (split between the Orioles and Expos), how his struggles in the postseason extended to youth baseball, and his totally appropriate adulation of Cal Ripken.
We know you love baseball. You have an unusual first name in every part of the country but this one. How did you get to be named Brooks?
So my dad said when he was younger, he used to take his radio into school and listen to the ballgames. He was a huge baseball fan. And he became a huge fan of Brooks Robinson. He liked Brooks’ approach to the game. My dad really appreciated the defensive aspect of the game and Brooks brought that. He liked the name. That’s the story, but it’s pretty cool.
I got a chance to meet Brooks. And that was a very, very special day for us.
Watching Brooks play, did that teach you anything playing hockey?
You know what? Probably indirectly. My dad was a very good baseball player, good defensive baseball player. He was a catcher and I’m assuming he took some of that from watching Brooks play. When I grew up playing hockey, he always stressed the defensive side of the game to me, maybe indirectly because of Brooks.
It’s really neat I got to meet him. He was incredible, humble, and genuine. These are all things people always said about him and I got to tell my dad “this is who I met.” It was an awesome experience.
You grew up a long way from Baltimore. It would seem that maybe you’d have somebody from the Minnesota Twins or Toronto Blue Jays as your hero.
I watched the Blue Jays growing up. I was a fan of the Blue Jays. But as far as meeting your namesake, obviously, I have a vested interest in that. A couple years ago, I was able to get a Brooks Robinson signed baseball and a Brooks Robinson signed photo and I gave those to my dad as a gift. So I had hopes that one day we would cross paths. Certainly being in the area I’m an Orioles fan and [I] also say [I’m] a Nats fan too. I cheer for them both equally. I’m pretty excited to be here to watch the game.
Are there any kids named after you?
When I met Brooks, he said that he and his wife keep a list of all the Brooks who are named after him and I thought that was a really good idea, that’s incredible. And then the other day, a lady approached me and said I have to show you my friend who named her son after you. She asked me, “Have you ever had that happen before?” I said,”I’ve had it two or three times that I know of.” People have contacted me and said, “We named our son after you” and it’s an amazing, humbling honor. It’s really sort of shell-shocking to hear. But maybe I should start a list. I don’t know. It’s a pretty cool thing. I really don’t know how to describe it.
You said your father played baseball. How big was baseball in your household compared to hockey?
Baseball and hockey growing up were pretty equal. I mean we played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. My mom always wanted me to be a baseball player, because she wanted to sit outside. She was like, “I want to sit outside in the sun and watch the games.” Our rinks in Canada are very cold. You have to dress very warmly to watch the game. And I said, “Mom, the rinks I’m going to be playing in are very warm. You’ll be alright.” I always loved hockey. It was number one. But in baseball we won the division title twice. We lost in the final twice. And our town had very [a] good baseball [team], but we could never win it in hockey. Nine boys in our class was all we had and they were all very good baseball players but just SUCKED at hockey. It just drove me crazy.
What position did you play?
I was a pitcher, catcher and shortstop.
Not a third baseman though?
Nope I played maybe one or two games at third. Terry Bako used to play third base for us. Curtis, my friend standing next to us in the blue, he was our second baseman. He was also a pitcher. We were very good at baseball growing up.
When did you stop playing baseball?
I moved away from home at 16 to pursue hockey and then after that, my summers were consumed with summer hockey and training. I wasn’t able to make all the games and all the practices. I sorta had to sacrifice it. Every time I see Curtis, he brings his ball and glove and we play catch all the time. It’s a game I will love forever. If I couldn’t be a hockey player, I’d probably be a baseball player.
Are you one of the guys that play catch before Capitals games?
No. I don’t do that. Some guys do. I don’t know how many of those guys were ballplayers. They might tell you they were. I don’t know if they were or not. I might step in and throw some every now and then.
Are you feeling any pressure with the first pitch tonight?
Absolutely none. People keep asking that, “Are you going to be nervous? Don’t bounce it!” I’m looking forward to it. It’s like passing a puck for me. I played growing up. I’m gonna grab it and I’m gonna whip it in there.
Have you thrown any first pitches before?
Nope, I’ve never done it, but I’m not going to be nervous. I’m excited. It’s something that’s going to be fun for me.
Are you going to try and outdo Ovi from last year? His pitch was high and kind of outside.
Did he? I’m just going to try and whip it in there. Like there’s going to be scouts in the stands. I want a minor league deal for the summer. It might be the only chance of my life. I’m gonna whip it in there!
So what’s this experience been like being on the field and everything?
It’s actually really awesome to be a fan. I mean we’re used to playing, we’re used to [focusing on our own] careers. But to be a fan… I’ve been to a Redskins game. Last night, we were at the DC United game. Being on the field here, especially after growing up playing baseball, there’s still a big part of me that’s a fan. My friend Curtis, he’s really enjoying it. He’s one of those big baseball people: come to the ballpark, get a beer, get a hot dog. I’m a kid in the candy store right now.
What jersey are you going to wear? Did you ever have a chance to find a Brooks Robinson jersey?
I haven’t. There’s still a little time before I go on. We’ll find a Brooks Robinson [jersey]. Huge, huge Cal Ripken fan as well. I have a signed picture of him. I have so much respect for that man. I respect consistency and a guy that plays everyday. And everyday the Orioles play, Cal Ripken was playing. That was a certainty. And I have so much respect for that: never taking days off or time off playing everyday. He must have had a huge, huge passion for this sport. I’m torn between a Ripken and a Robinson [jersey], but I have to go with the Robinson.
Maybe someone will throw you one down from the stands.
[Laughs] I’ll buy one. Curtis and I are going to go buy a jersey. I was hoping [Brooks] was going to be able to make it. I really hoping he’d be able to make it, but it doesn’t sound like he is.
Is there anybody on the field today that you’re really excited about meeting?
I hear JJ Hardy is a big hockey fan.
Jim Johnson is a big New York Rangers fan.
I don’t want to meet him then. [Smiles.]
It’s weird though. JJ was born in Tucson, Arizona and it’s odd for somebody to… I guess it’s odd for a Canadian to be a baseball fan. It’s neat. I really enjoy meeting the athletes of the other teams. Got to know a couple of Redskins guys, Nats guys, DC United guys. I really enjoy seeing them, meeting them, and leaving them tickets to come to a game. It’s pretty cool.