Robson gets chance with ‘hometown’ team

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Jacob Robson saw a storybook chance to play for his hometown team when the Tigers drafted the outfielder out of Mississippi State in 2016. He couldn’t have imagined the journey that would draw him and his family to Comerica Park on Friday night for his first Major League start.

“When I got drafted, it was a huge honor,” Robson told reporters on Thursday. “And here we are, I guess, what, five years later? Finally, I’m able to actually play for the Major League team, so it’s really exciting.”

It wasn’t just six seasons spent in the Tigers’ farm system, including three seasons at Triple-A Toledo. It was the final step of getting his family to town on Friday.

Robson grew up going to games at Comerica Park, just 15 minutes or so by car from his home in Windsor, Ontario. He and his family went to Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, where Kenny Rogers tossed eight scoreless innings to lead Detroit to its only win of the series. It was an easy trip back then, the only variable being the traffic at the border crossing.

It’s more complicated these days, with COVID-19 restrictions. While Canada opened its land border crossings to American visitors this week after more than a year of limits, the American side of the border remains restricted to essential travel.

Instead of scrambling for a flight from Toronto and going through commercial travel restrictions, Robson’s parents found a workaround by taking a helicopter from Windsor across the river.

“Eight-minute flight,” Robson said Friday as he took early batting practice.

It was worth it to see him manning left field.

Robson — ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Tigers’ No. 30 prospect — seemed on his way to the big leagues a few years ago. He made it to Triple-A in 2018, his second full pro season, and hit .305 with the Mud Hens to earn a non-roster invite to Spring Training the following season. But injuries slowed his path, and opportunities were limited.

Though Robson was again a non-roster invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2020, he was not at the alternate site. He played in 11 Grapefruit League games this spring, but he was assigned to Double-A Erie to start the year.

Seemingly on the outside of the Tigers’ roster picture, Robson hit his way back into consideration. He hit .424 (28-for-82) with nine doubles, two triples, two homers and 10 RBIs for the SeaWolves, made a continued impression with Team Canada in the Olympic qualifiers, then kept it up with Toledo this summer.

“When they initially told me I was going to Erie to start the year, it was definitely not expected,” Robson told reporters Thursday. “Looking back now, it was a great thing. I played every day. I hit in the three-hole most games. And it worked out.”

When injuries ravaged Detroit’s roster this week, including Niko Goodrum with a groin strain on Wednesday, the Tigers finally came calling.

How long Robson gets to spend with the Tigers remains to be seen, especially with Daz Cameron now on a rehab assignment with Toledo. But he has made the most of his opportunities to get this far.

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