Chris Robinson still squatting, waiting for call
* Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.), former London Badger,now with triple-A Norfolk tags out Colin Curtis of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees ….
By Todd Devlin
It’s a distinction that Chris Robinson could do without. Of the 66 Canadian position players who have appeared in the affiliated minor leagues this year, none have played more games at the Triple-A level without getting a shot in the big leagues than the 28-year-old catcher from Dorchester, Ont.
Robinson, though, remains undeterred. With 273 games (spread across four seasons) under his belt, the veteran backstop is forging ahead, and his end goal of reaching the major leagues remains unchanged – as it has since he began his professional career eight years ago.
“It keeps me going and drives me every day,” said Robinson, who is in his first year in the Baltimore Orioles system after spending three years at Triple-A with the Cubs, “And I have no doubt I can play at that level.”
It’s not as though Robinson hasn’t had success at the minors’ top level. In 2009, his first year at Triple-A, he hit a career-high .326 in 91 games with the Iowa Cubs and earned a spot in the Pacific Coast League all-star game. Iowa manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg calls Robinson his “adopted son.”
Then last year, following a down year in 2010, he returned to hit .316 in nearly 70 games. Opportunities seemed to arise with the Cubs at the big-league level, but Robinson never got the call.
“I was fortunate enough to learn quickly in my career that in this game you can’t assume anything,” the veteran said. “Looking at box scores, injury reports and reading papers can drive you crazy. You really have to focus on what you can control and let everything else fall into place.”
Robinson also learned quickly that pro ball is a business. So when he became a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, he understood there would be challenges in landing a good opportunity. That’s not to say he wasn’t sweating after receiving a surprise release by the Texas Rangers during spring training this year. Luckily, the 28-year-old landed on his feet and signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles.
“Things worked out well, but it wasn’t an easy couple of days,” he said. “Becoming a free agent can be hectic.”
With the Orioles, Robinson was sent to Triple-A Norfolk and was given a fresh start with a new organization after spending the previous six seasons with the Cubs.
“It was a lot of fun meeting a brand new group of guys and experiencing an entirely new league,” he said. “I had been with the Cubs so long that it was very familiar and at times I think I took for granted how comfortable it was to be in the same spot for an extended period of time.”
Quickly, Robinson learned that playing for the Norfolk Tides in 2012 offered a unique situation. Though Robinson has yet to experience life in a big-league clubhouse, you couldn’t blame the catcher if at different times during the year he thought he was in one. With Baltimore in the hunt for a playoff spot all season, the organization has kept the Tides roster stocked with former big-leaguers ready to help the big club if needed.
Veterans like Bill Hall, J.C. Romero, Dontrelle Willis, Nate McLouth, Lew Ford, Joel Pineiro and former AL MVP Miguel Tejada have all spent time at Norfolk this season.
“It has been a very interesting year to say the least,” Robinson said. “Our team has made a record number of transactions. Getting to work with these guys who have been very successful has been a great learning experience for me.
Robinson also had the opportunity to catch longtime veteran Jamie Moyer when the 49-year-old made three starts at Norfolk after signing a minor-league deal with the O’s in June. The left-hander went 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 16 strikeouts against zero walks before being released per his request.
“It was a lot of fun working with him,” Robinson said. “He’s a true professional and was a great person to have in the locker room … approachable and very easy to work with. I learned a lot sitting and talking with him during games and during batting practice.”
It made for an interesting battery – a 49-year-old with 25 seasons to his name tossing to a catcher who had zero games in the big leagues under his belt and was two years old when his pitcher made his major league debut.
But Moyer experience aside, highlights on the field have unfortunately been few and far between for Robinson this year. Because of a logjam at the catcher position, he has seen action in only 49 games thus far. His .240 average, meanwhile, is the lowest mark he’s posted at Triple-A.
But the 28-year-old is not getting discouraged. Robinson has been around the game long enough to understand its peaks and valleys. Most importantly, he remains confident in his abilities.
“At this point in my career, I know my strengths and weaknesses well,” he said. “It’s a matter of trying to be as consistent as possible and if the Orioles need a catcher I want to be ready to go and be the good choice for them.”
Even if that doesn’t happen this year, the catcher says he will continue fighting. He’d be proud of his accomplishments if his career ended today, he says, but achieving the ultimate goal remains his focus.
“Playing in the big leagues still eludes me,” he said. “Hopefully someday when my career ends I can say I accomplished all of my goals in this game. Not too many can say that, but hopefully I can.”