After long journey, Robinson living big league dream
Multi-talented athlete toiled in Royals system before catching on with Reds
Derrick Robinson is a natural athlete.
"When I was a kid, I was so in love with sports, in general, that I had a good feeling that I was going to play a sport for a living," he said. "I had a lot of uncles [notably former Denver Bronco Ricky Nattiel] and cousins who went on to play professional sports, football and baseball. When I was a kid, I wasn't sure what sport it was going to be, but I always wanted to be a professional athlete."
Having played both football and baseball all through high school, Robinson, now 25, turned down a scholarship to play cornerback at the University of Florida.
True, the Gainesville, Fla., native could've been part of a Gators dynasty, playing alongside star quarterback Tim Tebow on a team that, in a coincidental twist, would go on to win the 2010 Sugar Bowl against a team from the University of Cincinnati, the city Robinson now calls home during the season.
But that's not what this story is about. Robinson isn't a man to leave his fate twisting in the wind, isn't a man who carries what some may have called regret with him.
And maybe, just maybe, had his baseball career not turned out the way it has thus far, he would regret his decision.
But not now. Out of high school, Robinson became a Kansas City Royal in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and bounced around in the Royals' farm system, reaching Triple-A Omaha in 2012. But he was designated for assignment by Kansas City last November to clear space for the Rule 5 Draft.
Robinson appeared as a non-roster invite in Spring Training with the Reds but was called up to The Show after an injury to mainstay left fielder Ryan Ludwick.
"Personally, it was exciting to get that opportunity," Robinson said. "I wasn't too proud of how it happened, and I feel bad that Ludwick went down. But that's baseball, and you just have to be ready for an opportunity."
Robinson didn't waste any time jumping on this one.
"For the first two weeks, I was in awe, because it was a dream come true. People say they pinch themselves to see if they're dreaming. It was a surreal moment for the first two weeks or so. Every now and then I catch myself daydreaming in the outfield, 'Wow, you're in the big leagues now!'" Robinson said with a chuckle.
Appearing in 57 games, Robinson's toting a .261 batting average, though he has yet to hit a home run, as speed is his game.
"Being in the big leagues, there are expectations for you and everyone wants to win so badly that it brings a little extra pressure," Robinson said. "You have to trick yourself to maintain your calm and remind yourself that it's the same game you've been playing all along -- just on a bigger stage."
The biggest stage Robinson has played on thus far was that at Great American Ball Park, on an April night honoring another Robinson in baseball.
Wearing No. 42 on his back, a rising African-American baseball player named Robinson laid down a key bunt single and came around to score the go-ahead run for his team.
"That was another one of those 'pinch-yourself' moments," Derrick said.
Jackie would've been proud.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.