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Retired catcher Robinson ready to play one last Pan Ams for Canada

07/10/2015 03:22 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT
Competing in another Pan American Games was the last thing on Chris Robinson's mind when Baseball Canada's director of national teams called him a couple months ago.

As a recently retired catcher, the 12-time national team representative innocently assumed Greg Hamilton was phoning him to pick his brain on potential players who could fill his position.

Then the tone of the conversation changed.

"All of a sudden Greg says, 'you know, I'm missing out on that veteran presence, someone who knows the staff,'" Robinson said after Friday's practice at the President's Choice Pan Am Ballpark in Ajax, Ont.

"I was holding my 10-week-old baby in my arms, my other two kids were running around, my wife Amy was out of the house and Greg says, 'so can you do it?' I look around and I'm like: 'what do you mean can I do it?'"

"Obviously unexpected is an understatement," Robinson added with a laugh.

The 31-year-old Dorchester, Ont., native hung up his cleats at the end of the 2013 season after finally making it to the big leagues. His stint in the majors was short — eight games with the San Diego Padres — but he was grateful for it after spending nine seasons in the minors.

Since his retirement, Robinson has been working as a coach with the Great Lake Canadians, an elite baseball program in London, Ont., for high school-aged kids in the area. He also spent time on the coaching staff of the junior national team.

While Robinson admitted he was hesitant to join the Pan Am team after being out of the game so long — his last professional appearance came on Sept. 28, 2013 against the San Francisco Giants — he says his job in London keeps him in "somewhat baseball shape."

And when he met up with teammates at a training camp in North Carolina last week, his negative feelings drifted away.

"Before we even got on the field, the first night we all came together and all the anxiety that I had about playing kind of subsided because I was hanging out with the guys again," Robinson said. "I'm just going to ride that feeling out as long as I can and not think 'wait a second, you're not supposed to be doing this.'"

Robinson was part of the 2011 Pan Am team that beat the United States for gold in Mexico. Playing as the designated hitter in the final, Robinson tied the game on Jimmy Van Ostrand's double, which also scored Tim Smith for the winning run.

The former third-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers will most likely hold the back-up catcher's role behind Langley, B.C., native Kellin Deglan this time around.

And he's OK with that.

"Kellin's a great catcher, he's a very strong left-handed bat so he'll for sure be the (starting) guy and I'll try to add what I can from the bench, give him a breather here and there, help him with the preparation of the game," Robinson said.

"It's a staff full of guys I've caught for a long time so Kellin and I will sit down and talk about those pitchers, what they like to do and I'll help in that way."

North Battleford, Sask., left-hander Andrew Albers is one of those pitchers Robinson has caught in the past.

Though Albers said he was "a little bit surprised" when he saw Robinson's name on the roster sheet, he's thrilled to have him on board.

"Robbie's a tremendous leader," Albers said. "Any time you can get a great personality like that and someone with that much veteran experience, I'll take him on my team any day."

Aside from actually playing meaningful baseball games for the first time in nearly two years, Robinson says he's most looking forward to sharing the experience with his young family.

Wife Amy and three-year-old twins Griff and Lainey will be in attendance for the week-long tournament which starts Saturday with a game against the Dominican Republic.

"When I stopped playing the twins were 1-1/2 years old so they didn't really understand it, but now they know what I do, they're big into baseball and love going to the field," Robinson said.

"Whether I'm playing with a big league club or not, it doesn't matter to them. It will be really neat to share this with my kids."

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