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Sixty years later, Roberts recalls debut

Sixty years later, Roberts recalls debut

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PHILADELPHIA -- Robin Roberts prides himself on remembering "everything about everything in baseball."

The former Phillies pitcher smiled on Wednesday as he recalled the first start of his Hall of Fame career, which began 60 years ago, on June 18, 1948. He threw out the ceremonial fist pitch before Wednesday's game to mark the anniversary.

On the day of his debut, Roberts arrived at Philadelphia's Shibe Park about 3 1/2 hours before a night game against the Pirates.

"How do you feel, Roberts?" Phillies manager Ben Chapman asked.

Roberts, who was 21 years old, had just been called up from the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Phillies farm team. He replied: "Fine."

"Can you pitch tonight?" Chapman asked.

"Yeah," Roberts told Chapman.

It was just the beginning of Roberts' 14-year stint in Philadelphia that included 234 wins and a team-record 272 complete games. Roberts was inducted into the Hall in 1976, and his No. 36 is one of four retired by the Phillies.

Facing his first Major League hitter, Stan Rojek, proved to be a nerve-racking experience for Roberts.

"I walked him on four of the wildest pitches you ever saw," Roberts said.

Then he settled in. He worked the next hitter, Frank Gustine, to a full count and got him to chase a high fastball for the strikeout.

"If he hadn't swung at that pitch, I might have gone back to Wilmington," Roberts said with a laugh.

Roberts lasted eight innings in his debut, giving up two runs on five hits in a 2-0 loss to the Pirates. He notched his first win five days later, throwing a complete game against the Reds.

These days, Roberts lives in Tampa, Fla., and watches the Phillies play when they face the Marlins in Miami and the Braves in Atlanta. He said he is impressed with the Phils' speed and hitting this season.

When Roberts threw out Wednesday's first pitch, lefty Cole Hamels served as his catcher. Roberts said he has enjoyed watching Hamels pitch this season. But how well would Roberts have fared in home run-friendly Citizens Bank Park?

"I'm not sure," he said. "I wouldn't walk anybody. I might not keep them in the park, but I wouldn't walk anybody."

Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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