The Journey of Windsor Native
Jacob Robson, from T-ball to the Tigers
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Detroit Tigers/Allison Farrand
What is it like getting The Call, saying you’re going to play in your first Major League Baseball game in 48 hours?
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Jacob Robson says about being notified on Wednesday, August 11 that he would be playing for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Friday the 13th. “I didn’t think I would be called up when I did. My focus has always been on being a good player. It caught me by surprise—a pleasant surprise.”
When he hung up with the Toledo Mud Hens’ skipper, Tom Prince, who gave the news, Jacob phoned his parents, Jill and Charles. It was quarter past 11 pm. His mother answered. She recalls Jacob asking: “Where’s Dad?” Jill told him: “He’s in bed.”
“Wake him up!” Jacob said.
When both his parents were on the line, Jacob shared the news: “I got The Call.”
It was the culmination of a lifetime of work. Jacob began playing T-ball in Windsor at the age of four and by the time he reached high school he was a proficient competitor in volleyball, hockey, badminton, track and lacrosse—and, of course, baseball.
“He just loves to compete,” Charles adds. “Not just win—he just wants to try.”
It wasn’t until Grade 11 that Jacob thought he might have a future in athletics.
“I was about five feet tall in ninth grade,” Jacob recalls, “and about five-two in tenth grade. I could barely touch the top of the volleyball net. But my speed and jumping ability increased that year and by grade eleven, I could dunk a basketball. In volleyball, my spikes were going straight down.”
All the while, he played baseball. With Charles as his coach, Jacob played for the Riverside Royals until he was 15. Then, he tried out for the Windsor Selects.
“I didn’t make the Selects,” Jacob says. “And I was like: ‘Oh, OK…’ Then, Dave Cooper, coach of the Tecumseh Thunder, called and said: ‘We’d love to have you!’ Dave played a real role in accelerating my career. He loves the game more than anyone.”
That same year, Jacob earned a place on Team Canada, playing for coach and mentor, Greg Hamilton.
By the time Jacob graduated from Massey high school, he had 78 baseball scholarship offers from Division I schools throughout the United States.
“Math was his favourite subject,” Jill says. “Jacob was in the gifted program, going to what we called ‘night math’ at Massey one night a week, working on complicated math equations.”
She continues: “Jacob and a friend made an algorithm that helped them pick which school to go to. It took things into consideration like campus amenities and food on the cafeteria menu.”
Jacob chose Mississippi State University, playing four years for the Bulldogs, beginning in 2012. In 2016, he was drafted by the Tigers and has spent five years in the organization’s farm system.
Then, on August 11, he got The Call, an experience Jacob is still wrapping his head around: “It means a lot. I grew up going to games with my family, dreaming of one day stepping onto that field. I watched Tiger games on TV with my grandpa. That was a great connection I had with my mom’s dad. He passed in 2014.
“One thing I remember, my grandpa never spoke poorly about a player. He knew how difficult it was to get there. He was not a typical fan, so I wasn’t a typical fan. It was such an honour to wear the old English ‘D.’”
Jacob’s parents were also ecstatic. They had been there every step of the way. Going to see their son play in his first major league baseball game was a dream come true. Then, reality asserted itself. Traveling to Detroit in the era of COVID-19 was a near-impossibility.
“We confirmed three times over the phone that there was no chance getting across the border by car,” Charles recalls. “The only way to do it was by air, except, you need a PCR test in Canada to get on a plane. That has a 24 to 48 hour turnaround time. The only way was by helicopter, which just required a rapid test.”
So, Charles and Jill chartered a helicopter, which took them to Signature Airport in Detroit. “I asked the pilot to fly over south Windsor so I could video the baseball diamonds Jacob grew up playing on,” Charles says.
From Signature Airport, a driver whisked Jill and Charles over to an urgent care facility in Hazel Park, where they each submitted to a “polymerase chain reaction” (PCR) COVID-19 test, which is required to get back into Canada. From there, they checked into their hotel and then went to Comerica Park, where they watched their son, Jacob, play with the Tigers in a triple header with the Cleveland Indians over the weekend.
“It was very emotional,” Charles says, “walking into Comerica Park knowing I was there to see Jacob play. I remember taking Jacob there and to old Tiger Stadium, since the time he could walk. It was a very overwhelming experience.”
During Friday’s game, Jacob made a spectacular catch in the outfield. On Saturday, he pinch ran for Miguel Cabrera.
“It was bottom of the eighth inning, no outs and the score was four-four,” Charles says. “Cabrera was walked so Jacob went on base for him. It was really something hearing the announcer say: ‘Robson goes in for Cabrera!’ Hearing your son’s name going in for a future hall-of-famer. And then Jacob came around to score on singles from Candelario, Renato Núñez and Haase. They won the game and everyone went
After the high of the triple header weekend, Jacob received the news that he was returning to the minors. The move was not based on his performance, but the fact that all the Tigers catchers are currently on the injured list. Bringing a catcher up from the minors bumped Jacob back down. As Jill observes: “Baseball is chess played on a field.” Despite the move off the 26 man roster, he remains on the big league 40 man roster.
Jacob is circumspect about the roller coaster ride a career in baseball inevitably is: “I just try and be a good player. I was sent down because we needed another catcher. It had nothing to do with how I played.”
What keeps Jacob playing baseball? Well, being part of the three player “taxi squad,” for one—which gives teams quick options if a player is injured or tests positive for COVID-19. This took Jacob to Toronto on August 22, where he witnessed teammate Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th career home run.
“Sports is such a direct way to see improvement,” Jacob says. “A lot of people can struggle with ‘I’m unsure what I want to do with my life. I don’t know where to improve, or how to improve.’ For me, it’s clear. I want to get better at the sport where I can compete. There can be long stretches without seeing results. You can work yourself into the ground. That part is hard. I’m so grateful making it to the big leagues. I just like to play.”