PHILADELPHIA - Tom Hiltner would talk to or see his old college baseball coach several times a year. The last time they spoke was three months ago.
On Thursday morning, Hiltner received a text message that meant he would never get to hear from his coach again. Former Philadelphia Phillies great and University of South Florida baseball coach Robin Roberts, 83, died Thursday at his Temple Terrace, Fla., home of natural causes, the Phillies said, citing son Jim.
In 1977, Hiltner was part of Roberts' first recruiting class at South Florida.
"My father passed away my senior year in high school. He became like a father to me," Hiltner, 51, the city clerk for Margate, said Thursday in a phone interview. "He had a way about him that just made you feel at ease. Just a very laid back, funny, relaxed individual. Playing baseball for Robin Roberts was the best four years of my life."
Hiltner remembered how the Hall-of-Fame pitcher had a way of simplifying problems. Whenever Hiltner had an issue - whether personal, school or baseball related - he went to Roberts.
"He would just be able to break it down and make it so simple and you would go, 'Why didn't I think of that?' " Hiltner said. "Even with teaching baseball, he was not a guy that believed in many different types of baseball routines. He thought if you just stuck to the basics, everything else would just fall into place."
Some of the best moments during Hiltner's four years at USF were spent at Roberts' home. Hiltner became good friends with Roberts' son, Jimmy, who was two years younger.
Hiltner said Roberts, who was part of the fan-favorite "Whiz Kids," had an incredible memory and talked about his playing days in Major League Baseball.
"His ability to just recall was remarkable," Hiltner said. "He remembered the inning, the pitch count, the outs and the batter. It was unbelievable."
Roberts spent 14 of his 19 seasons in Philadelphia, where many fans watched him pitch at Shibe Park. Fans might never see another pitcher like him.
Over 19 seasons, he pitched 305 complete games, including 33 in 1953.
"He just went out there and did his job," Wayne McKeever, 75, said at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-2 on Thursday. McKeever has had a second home on Simpson Avenue in Ocean City since 1978.
"He was never one to have an excuse. He just did what had to be done, and that's why the fans here loved him."
Stephen Paulmeno, 82, of Delran, saw Roberts at Citizens Bank Park many times over the last 11 years. Paulmeno, a retired probations officer from Philadelphia, is an elevator operator and often sees former players while riding to the different stadium levels.
"He had talent and didn't abuse it like so many other players now," Paulmeno said. "He didn't take advantage of people, either. It probably cost him a couple of wins, too, but it didn't matter."
Roberts will be remembered throughout the ballpark this summer. Fans won't easily forget him as they stroll through Ashburn Alley, where a black ribbon was placed over his plaque in center field. In the Hall of Fame Club, a black drape was placed above a photo of him.
One current player reminds Paulmeno of Roberts.
"That Doc (Roy) Halladay is just like him," he said. "He gets out there and is totally ready all the time and can pitch complete games. They don't make them like Robin Roberts anymore except for maybe Doc Halladay."
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