Errol Robinson is a shortstop at St. John’s College High in Washington, D.C. He ranked No. 92 on Baseball America’s preseason high school Top 100 list and I was able to speak to him over the phone on March 6. Read or listen to the interview below to learn about the new amenities at his high school, his baseball-playing relative and the player he models his game after . . .
I have to say, you’re the first person to volunteer yourself for a Q&A, but I had you on the list of guys I wanted to talk to anyway, so it worked out nicely.
Oh yeah, definitely. I’m very excited.
You guys had some snow today and no school, right?
Yeah, we sure did. I think actually Mother Nature was giving us a little bit of a break before we really get into the season here. It’ll be nice to get that warm weather coming now.
Were you able to get out and go sledding or do anything fun like that?
I kind of took this day as more of a relaxing time with my family.
Aside from the nasty weather up there recently, how’s the season going so far for you?
It’s going well for me personally and also as a team. I know we have our goal in mind and I think we’re really ready to get underway and show everybody what we can accomplish this year.
Tell me a little bit about your team and your teammates.
We have a young group of guys now and I believe we can go to the next level with this team. We’re taking a trip down to Florida for our spring break trip and we’re going to see a lot of good teams down there, a lot of good arms. But this team is definitely ready to compete and it’s great to see the young guys come up and compete and fight for those spots. We had a whole bunch of seniors leave us. Last year we had a lot of senior guys in the starting rotation and it’s really nice to see the young kids come up and really work hard to really earn those spots.
Sure. What would you say your role is on the team?
Right now, it’s really . . . I’m a leader on the field and I try to be a leader off the field. I was voted by my teammates captain, so it’s just to keep the guys energized, keep a lot of energy on the field, in the dugout and really just set a model for the younger guys because we do have a lot of younger guys on the team, so I try to just display what it’s going to be like and help the younger guys get through it because I know I definitely had my struggles being young last year and playing with a lot of older guys. Since I’ve been through some of the stuff some of the younger guys could be looking forward to in the future, I’m just advising them that way.
I was looking around at your school’s Web site today and your school is in the D.C. area, but you live in Boyds, Maryland. On Google Maps, it looks like that’s about a 40-minute drive every day, is that right?
Yeah it is. It’s about 50-55 minutes with traffic. It’s a little rough.
Wow. Do you drive that yourself?
Yeah, I drive that.
Also, I looked at your school’s Web site and it looks like you guys do a lot of work on iPads?
Yeah. They just instituted a new iPad thing for a couple classes. Next year—of course it’s the year I leave—they’re bringing in iPads for the whole school, which will be really nice.
Do you have any classes where you get to use the iPad?
Unfortunately, I do not. That’s just my luck.
Well, I was going to say they better have something on there to keep kids on task, or else everyone’s just going to be surfing the Web and playing Angry Birds and things like that.
(laughs) Yeah, exactly.
I’ve been to a game at your home field before. Nathan Rode and I went up a couple years ago to see Nick Howard. But for people listening to this or reading this who haven’t been there and don’t know about it, describe what your field is like, because it’s pretty unique.
It is actually unique. We actually have a new setting. We got the scout seats behind home plate now and that’s new and pretty nice. And we got a new fence this year, actually. What’s unique about that is that it used to be the football field connected to the baseball field. It was grass before, then they got the turf in there because it was all choppy out there. The fence is new this year. It’s 330 (feet) to left and 380 to the power alley and I think like 405 to center. So, that’s new. We got the new clubhouse this year and that’s very nice. Three showers in there, a coaches office, a players’ locker room, a flat screen TV, a projector system, a team room upstairs and a V.I.P. lounge area for alumni and for some of the scouts. I know a couple scouts, our first game, sat up there in the warmth. It’s very nice.
Yeah, I saw a couple pictures of that online as well. That’s nicer than most minor league clubhouses!
Yeah, we got spoiled this year. It’s a beautiful place to play and a beautiful atmosphere.
Before you guys had the fence, the dimensions were pretty crazy because it was a baseball field on a football field. Did you ever hit any quote-unquote inside-the-park home runs?
Yeah, I got lucky enough to get one of those last year. Once you get going, it’s just like, ‘All right, well I kind of got my freebie here.’
You went through the showcase circuit this summer. What was that experience like, getting to play all over the country on some nice fields against the best players in the nation?
Yeah, I mean that was definitely eye-opening. Being up here and being ranked No. 2 or No. 3 in Maryland and being like, ‘OK, I’m doing pretty well for myself,’ and then going out and seeing the better competition out there, it’s definitely an eye-opening situation to be in. I had the greatest time of my life playing against those guys and in front of those important decision makers. I loved my teammates and it was a great time simply because everyone knew their level, we’re all on the same level, we’re here for a reason and we’re honestly just having fun. There’s nothing to prove as far as teammates go—you always have something to prove in front of (the scouts). But as far as playing with a team and playing with scouts as your coaches at East Coast Pro and at the Minneapolis tournament (Perfect Game National Showcase), it was honestly great. Both of those tournaments were great and I wish I could do it again. It was amazing.
Being around other players like that and, like you said, having the scouts as coaches, what did you learn about yourself as a player and how do you feel you improved over the summer?
For one, being around here, you don’t see that kind of velocity. You don’t see the sliders and the consistent curveballs. (In the summer), somebody will throw a consistent curveball for a 2-0 strike and it’ll be like, ‘Wow,’ you know? I learned a lot about myself—what I could do, what I need to work on to get to the next level. As you go up and you go to the higher levels, the speed of the game definitely accelerated and the pitching is better. It’s a lot more fine and they can hit spots in most counts, they have very good control. Arms—the catchers’ arms—you might not be able to stretch that single into a double like you can in Maryland, so you have to be wiser about what you do.
I saw you at all the events you talked about so far, but another event where I saw you is one of my favorite events—and I think it’s an underrated event, in terms of some of the guys who wind up playing there—but that’s USA Baseball’s Breakthrough Series. What does it mean to you to be an African-American player and what are your thoughts on the fact that the number of black players in the major leagues continues to be on the decline?
I mean, that’s definitely a stat that you can favor. You can’t really look past that, being an African-American in baseball. As far as me, I’m really going to try my best—I know the inner city situations that some people may be in, it’s not that easy to get out and get a ball, buy a glove, buy a bat and go out to a field to work on baseball things. I’ve been out to D.C. to encourage the inner-city players to get out, find somebody, find a friend—find me, you have my number—just get out there and work on those things. It’s really encouraging to see things like the Breakthrough Series and I went to R.B.I. when I was little—that’s the Reviving Baseball In Inner City thing—in Jupiter, Florida, and events like that to encourage the inner-city kids and the African Americans to get out and play baseball. I really did enjoy those when I was little.
One thing I learned from the Breakthrough Series—our editor in chief, John Manuel did some of the play-by-play—and one thing I learned was that your great, great uncle was P.C. Bailey, a pitcher in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants. Have you heard any stories or anything about him passed down from your family?
It’s funny, my dad (told me) he was a pitcher and would throw all these funky pitches that would do remarkable things and break and fall off tables and things like that. Not too many stories, but apparently he was a pretty good pitcher. He had the location, he had an above-average arm on the mound and just that he played for the Chicago American Giants and that he used to deal when he was that age.
Yeah, finding information is tough on those guys. But, if you ever get the chance, and you’re in Kansas City, to go to the Negro League Baseball Museum, that’s a special place for any baseball fan. It’s a great place . . . You’re committed to Mississippi and it sounds like you have quite the legacy there. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah. Well, my mom graduated from there. My sister, who’s 21, her name is Jolie, she’s there now, my father went there for I believe two years and then transferred to Southern and my grandparents are actually up the street from Ole Miss. I don’t want to say they were favored. Going into it, I had some other opportunities and some other knocks at the door. It pains me to say I was talking to Mississippi State. I told my mom I got the e-mail from them and she was like, ‘Errol, if you go there, you will be disowned from this family.’ Once I got on campus—and I had been there a few times before, but not seeing it like being a recruit, you know—and being on campus, I really did see it was the place I wanted to spend my three years. It’s just a beautiful place. Going online and researching all their baseball things and seeing the atmosphere they have there, the fans they have there and the coaches they have there, seeing how I could better myself as a student-athlete, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Now being from the Washington, D.C. area, are you a Nationals fan, or did you already have a team you liked better before the Nationals came in 2005?
The Nationals . . . I mean, I’ll root for them, I was rooting for them last year, but my team is the Atlanta Braves. That was passed down from my father. We’re not too happy with the Nats these days because they’ve been doing work on the Braves.
What’s your favorite touristy thing to do in Washington D.C.?
I love going down and seeing the White House, the Pentagon, getting a nice quick bite at Ben’s Chili Bowl. The sights here are really cool. I love going to the museums. Easter break is when my family and I try to get down there and take time to walk around and my mom loves the cherry blossoms. It’s a really pretty place.
Who would you say is your favorite player to watch?
Jose Reyes, definitely.
Yeah, that Blue Jays team is going to be exciting this year and I’m really excited to see what he can do on turf.
Yeah. I’m not sure if people out there have seen my actions and the way I kind of play the game, but he’s got the speed, he’s got the arm, he’s got the bat, and the way that I field—he’s got the soft hands and I kind of try to emulate his soft hands. When scouts come here and they ask, ‘Who do you model your game after?’ I’ll say, ‘Well, Jimmy Rollins because he’ll make the routine plays and he’ll make the harder plays.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Hmm, I kind of see you as a Jose Reyes guy. You’ve got the soft hands, the arm, you run above average, you steal bases, you like to be loose in the game.’ You know, so I think that’s who I model my game after, Jose Reyes.
OK. I was going to say Brandon Phillips because of the way you play and your outgoing personality.
Yeah, the mouth? (laughs) Maybe a little mix between the two.
You should change your Twitter to @DatDudeER.
(laughs) Yeah, nice. I can see that.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
I love music, so hanging out with friends, being on the Beats, listening to some music, just relaxing. I’m a family guy also, so I love being close to family—anything, really. Cookouts, so I can be close to people I love and people who love me.
Do you guys get to pick your walk-up music at St. John’s?
We got the new system in, but we didn’t have the luxury of doing walk-up songs this year.
Well, what would be your walk-up song, if you could choose one?
Mine would be J. Cole — “Blow Up.” That’s just kind of my mentality when I go to the plate.
Awesome, well is there anything else people should know about Errol Robinson?
I mean, you can see everything on the field. When people come see me play, I think it’s all out there. You can kind of see my personality when I’m talking to an umpire or kind of messing around with one of my teammates or an opponent. I love the game and I love working at it. Really, just being out there on the field is a love and a joy and one of the happiest feelings in the world is being out there and being able to play with my team.