For pitcher Robertson, giving back to community is part of game of life

February 18, 2011|By Steve Kelly, Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Several years ago, on a typically raw winter's night in Detroit, Nate Robertson and his wife, Kristin, were warm and comfortable, sitting in an upscale restaurant waiting for friends to arrive.

At that moment they were a world away from the pain and suffering that was hitting their depressed city, two of the lucky people in a suddenly unlucky town.

But outside the restaurant that night, Nate saw a homeless woman peering through the window. Unlike most people, he didn't look away. He didn't look past the woman's pain, didn't treat her as if she were an inconvenient truth, briefly intruding on a pleasant evening out.

When he saw a restaurant employee shooing the woman away, Robertson decided something had to be done. He excused himself from the table, walked outside and offered to take the woman to dinner.

A Detroit Tiger at the time, Robertson was one of those professional athletes who understood his good fortune. Living in a city that was losing jobs, he had the best job in the world, and that night he shared his good fortune, eating dinner with the homeless woman at a downtown hamburger joint.

"It's just something I learned growing up," Robertson said by telephone from Peoria, Ariz.. "You try to be a servant first and help others. I felt like one way I can help people is to feed them. I asked her if she was hungry, and she was."

Robertson, who was so well-liked in Detroit he once was grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day parade, wasn't looking for a commendation. His agent didn't send out a look-what-my-client-just-did news release. This was a good deed, nothing more. But a Tigers fan saw it and told the team about it. Robertson's good deed became a good story.

"I was just trying to help someone out," he said. "A lot of people do stuff like that. It's just that it's not always written about. It doesn't make me any different from anybody else."

Robertson, 33, who has won 57 major league games, recently signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners and will compete for a place at the back end of their rotation.

Robertson is a veteran left-hander who knows how to pitch, a commodity that the Mariners, who lost 101 games last season, desperately need. He has made 187 starts in his nine-year career. He is 57-77 lifetime with a 5.01 earned-run average. He could be a late-winter steal.

He's the kind of guy you pull for, a player who knows there is more to life than a pitching mound and a fastball, a professional athlete who believes his job description includes participation in the community.

For the first time since 2002, Robertson had no guarantees coming into camp. After left elbow and groin surgery in 2009, he is trying to rebuild his career. He's just another guy on a Mariners roster filled with players who have something to prove.

"It's pretty cool actually, having to compete for a spot," Robertson said. "It kind of feels like I'm starting all over again, like if I was a young kid who just got signed and I'm just trying to make my mark.

"I know I'm not going to be a whole bunch of people's fantasy-league pick or anything like that, but I'll fight anybody who gets on the other side of that diamond. I'll compete each day. I'd like to be part of the Mariners' resurgence. I want to give a team a chance to win."

Robertson is no baseball babe-in-the-woods. He knows how unpredictable and ruthless the game can be.

He grew up in the Marlins organization and was a September call-up in 2002. On Jan. 10, 2003, he married Kristin, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The next morning, he was traded to the Tigers.

The Marlins won the 2003 World Series. Robertson's Tigers lost 119 games.

"You get married and then your whole life changes the next day," Robertson said. "But it turned out to be the opportunity I needed to establish myself as a major leaguer."

He sees this opportunity with Seattle as a chance for history to repeat itself.

"I've been part of some low times," he said. "I went over to Detroit when we were really, really struggling. I was part of the rebuilding there, and three years down the road we were in the World Series (losing to the Cardinals).

"Going from something so bad, then being part of something so good, there's a lot of gratification. It's a lot of fun. I'd love to help, to be a part of something like that again in Seattle. I still feel like I can compete at the highest level. We can get better together. We'll see what happens."

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