ANAHEIM, Calif. – A year ago, Trayvon Robinson made his major league debut here, playing left field for the Seattle Mariners with his mother in the stands watching.
He behaved like the young man she’d raised.
Making a marvelous leaping catch in the left field corner to end an inning, Robinson’s hat flew off his head and into the stands, where an Angels fan caught it.
No. Robinson immediately offered a swap – baseball for hat – and any possible confrontation was avoided.
Robinson, a 24-year-old switch hitter with speed, is back with the Mariners, and back in Southern California. With mother Jackie and three brothers, there are a lot of memories.
“My mom, she raised four boys in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity, and not one of us wound up a gangbanger,” Robinson said. “She was a sports fanatic, the mom of the century.
“Because of her I feel protective of single women with children. She’ll be there, and anything I do in the series, I’ll be happy she’s there to see it.”
Acquired in a three-way trade with the Red Sox and Dodgers for Erik Bedard, Robinson last year was a different player than he’d ever been. A hitter whose doubles had always out-numbered his home runs, he was a Pacific Coast League power hitter.
“Last year my power numbers were just one of those things. I hit the ball hard and it went out – 26 times,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t trying to hit home runs. My approach this season has been the same, and I had more doubles and nine home runs in Tacoma.
“The Dodgers knew what kind of player I was, that I had five tools to impact a game with. My power numbers might spike, but the speed was there. The defense was there.”
Robinson thinks he’s a better player now than a year ago. The Mariners aren’t as certain, but they’d like to take a look.
“Trayvon needs to keep working in the outfield,” manager Eric Wedge said. “His first step is usually back, and that makes it tough to make a play down the line, tough to come in on balls.
“He’s working on that. He looks a little more controlled at the plate, a little less wild.”
No, that’s not a rave review. But Wedge and his team lost five of six games going into the Angels series, and he has not been in the best of moods.
After Seattle’s game in New York last Sunday – when Robinson lined out three times without getting a hit – Wedge was a lot more complimentary.
“He squared the ball up three times, had great at-bats with nothing to show for it,” Wedge said. “He’s swinging real well, showing patience at the plate, then letting it fly.”
Robinson took quite a bit out of that New York game.
“I was happy. I hit the ball hard three times. If they catch it, it’s out of my control,” he said. “All I can do is get the barrel of the bat on the ball, and that day I did it perfectly three times.
“When you hit the ball like that, you get confidence. Those line drives gave me confidence for two or three games, and I stayed with my plan.
“A year ago, I would have thought an 0-for-4 meant I had to get more hits the next day to make an impression.”
In 2011, Robinson recorded 143 at-bats with the Mariners but didn’t show much. He hit .210 and struck out 61 times. This spring, he was assigned to the Rainiers and stayed there until July 24.
Although he hit .265 with the Rainiers, Robinson displayed power (nine homers) and speed (19 steals) to go with 50 runs scored.
“When I was sent to Triple-A, I got a couple of extra days to report and I got over whatever disappointment there was. Being discouraged wasn’t going to help me,” he said. “What they told me was ‘get better.’ I was fine with that. I knew there was more in there than I’d shown. I agreed with them, and I tried to do just that.”
Tacoma manager Daren Brown, Robinson said, gave him the green light to run – and worked with him daily on defensive drills, hitting the cutoff man, knowing the game.
“I found out this year the challenge wasn’t my play on the field, it was mental. My confidence grew, my game improved. I learned to trust my game,” he said.
“The day I was called up, I talked to myself on the drive from Tacoma to Seattle. I told myself ‘Do the same things, don’t try to change your game.’
“I think I’ve passed the test in the minors. I hope I have.”