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Minor leaguer who survived suicide attempt takes new role with Giants

Local resources for help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

SACRAMENTO — Every so often, Drew Robinson will reach for the bullet that tore through his skull some 15 months ago.

He will run his fingers across the mangled piece of lead and wonder about what he did, how he survived it and his new life calling: to help others. He knows that now. It’s not to be a Major League Baseball player. Those are dashed dreams that he can now cope with.

Robinson retired as a baseball player Tuesday night as an outfielder for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He said the rigors of baseball and the abject fear of failure in a sport where failure is part of the game is too much to bear. Robinson can admit now that there is no shame in such confessions. Baseball used to bring him joy but then it started to torture him, so much so that Robinson attempted suicide. Robinson said a return to baseball this season after nearly dying “saved me” and retiring from the sport “really saved me.”

Robinson’s journey now is a new beginning. The 29-year-old on Thursday starts his new role as an advocate for mental health with the San Francisco Giants, the parent club of the River Cats. He never expected his call-up to the Giants would be in this role, but he’s delighted. Robinson is consumed with good thoughts where there used to be so many dark ones.

For Giants players and coaches, Robinson will provide an ear that he never thought anyone had for him, or that he didn’t want to burden with his worries. He will hide nothing from here on out, not his emotions, not his missing right eye that was shattered by that bullet. Not the scars on his head or scars on his soul.

“I have a new beginning,” Robinson said. “Life is good. There is livability. Life is special.”

Robinson can see life — and that bullet — with a limited vantage point but with a renewed sense of the big picture. He thought for months about placing a pistol to his right temple, which he did on April 16, 2020, in his Las Vegas home. He was alone and consumed by thoughts of not being good enough, of wondering if he had what it takes to return to the Major League Baseball stage. Robinson had a taste of the big leagues and craved a return. He logged 100 games in 2017 and 2018 with the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals and showed remarkable versatility, but he was miserable through a lot of it as he was demoted to Triple-A, then called back up, then sent back down.

Robinson played 28 big league games in center field, 24 in left, 23 at third base, 15 at second, seven at shortstop and two in right field. But the powerful 6-foot-1, 205-pound Robinson struggled to hit big league pitching, batting .202 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs.

After his suicide attempt and recovery that was superbly chronicled by ESPN, Robinson vowed to play again. He signed with the Giants and spoke openly with management about his mental concerns, that he struggled with confidence in a profession that requires it.

With the River Cats, Robinson batted .124. He struck out three times Sunday in a 14-0 loss to Round Rock, the feeder program for the Rangers. That sort of outing would have overwhelmed Robinson before. It no longer does. It’s part of baseball. Even the best swing and miss. Robinson understands this. He’s now available to listen and share with others who may struggle internally.

“I was so afraid of doing the wrong thing in baseball that I often didn’t do the right thing,” Robinson said. “When I wasn’t trying to fail, that’s when things happened naturally. I tried to do everything on my own and not ask for help. That created a very lonely feeling. I didn’t reach out to my support system, my family and friends.”

Robinson thought he had a handle on his emotions this season. Sometimes he did. Too often, he did not.

“I felt it this season,” he said of feelings of despair. “I started to fall back into a lot of similar habits and fell into some dark places and thought patterns again. I had to step away and retire to save myself.”

Robinson added, “I shared with the Giants this season that I was going through a bad time again, and they were empathetic and caring, and I realized that it’s not the right thing to be back in baseball as a player, though it was special to be back. Unfortunately, I was not as equipped to handle the baseball lifestyle as I thought I had, and that’s something I realized before the incident.”

‘It’s a miracle I survived’

The incident is the suicide attempt.

Robinson said he did not have the strength to live in April 2020. The bullet crashed through his right temple and destroyed his right eye. It nearly shattered the other eye before exiting near his left cheek. Where there was once shame in even looking in the mirror, Robinson now beams at another chance. He found a measure of self-worth in returning to playing action and feels an obligation to help others as an advocate of mental health.

Local resources for help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

His biggest theme: talk, share, vent, listen.

“It’s a miracle I survived, and I never take that lightly,” Robinson said. “I think about it all the time. Even when I do something, I think, ‘I could not have experienced that,’ or how I probably shouldn’t be doing anything. Something prevented me from dying. Something or someone was looking out for me. That’s something I never would have looked at so deeply before. I was such a surface-level guy. I appreciate life now, and it’s so special.”

Robinson said he is especially amazed the bullet did not strip him of any motor skills, memory or his ability to speak. He said that’s as much of a miracle as surviving, adding, “I’m happy now. I’m so lucky. Life is good.”

Robinson said he has been moved by the outpouring of support, be it teammates, opponents or fans. He hugged teammates and opponents before and after Saturday and Sunday’s games.

“He’s an inspiration,” River Cats broadcaster Johnny Doskow said on the air, adding, “he can do anything he wants.”

“I’m so impressed by that young man, and it makes me emotional thinking what he went through,” said longtime River Cats fan Kate Andrews of Sacramento. “Drew Robinson should be proud of what he’s overcome.”

Robinson became a fan and team favorite this season. He’s impossible not to like, to not feel moved by his story and vision. Players also enjoy Robinson’s large fluffy white dog, a frequent visitor to the clubhouse.

“We adopted the dog as our team dog,” River Cats general manager Chip Maxson said. “It’s been great to see all the guys rally around him, and for Drew to identify his feelings and challenges and to make wise decisions and to avoid that dark path ... it’s bigger than baseball. He makes us all better. I’m proud of him. What an incredible person.”

Could the Giants be onto something in hiring a mental health advocate? Might more teams do this?

“This is one of the things that make the Giants such a special organization,” Maxson said. “I want to praise them for how they look after their players and us in Sacramento. They think ahead. What great leadership by Drew to take this on and by the Giants to bring him on.”

‘I’m meant to be alive’

Robinson didn’t feel like a failure just in baseball but also to his family and friends. If he failed in baseball, say, going 1 for 4 with two strikeouts, did that make him a failure as a person? Was he letting those close to him down? Robinson would frequently break up with his longtime girlfriend, Daiana, texting about whether he was good enough for her or asking why she even liked him.

The suicide note left for family read, “I hope eventually that you guys will realize that no one could’ve seen this coming to prevent it because of how hard I try to hide it and that it’s no one else’s fault. I’m Sorry. Drew Robinson.”

Robinson said suicide may end one life but it shatters others. One person’s release become many others’ anguish. Robinson regrets the pain he put on his parents and Daiana, whom he has reconnected with. He told ESPN that after surviving, “I’m free now. I shot myself, but I killed my ego.”

Some 20 hours after shooting himself, Robinson was able to stand, to slow the bleeding with towels, and to call 911. A Las Vegas police officer who busted his door down asked him why he’d shot himself. Robinson said it was because he hated himself. Those feelings are gone now with retirement. He saved himself before losing himself.

“I’m happy with who I am,” Robinson said Saturday. “I’m meant to be alive.”

Robinson wore a T-shirt Saturday that read on front, “End the Stigma.” On the back, it read, “You are not alone.” He stresses that mental growth is a continuous journey.

“I would tell anyone now that you’re not alone, that mental health is there, that you can live with it,” Robinson said. “People do care. People will listen. Everyone knows someone who is going through something hard. Life is hard. I’ve been fortunate to find out how caring people can be, how beautiful that can be and how special life can be.”

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