Nate Robertson hopes to revive career with Mariners
The left-hander has seen the highs and lows of the majors and is eager to help the Mariners turn around their losing ways. First he has to make the roster.
Seattle Times staff columnist
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 on Sunday afternoon. "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 big-league games, recently signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners. Beginning with Monday's opening of training, he will compete for a place at the back end of their starting 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 big-league 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 has no guarantees coming into camp. After left elbow and groin surgery in 2009, he is trying to rebuild his career. As camp opens, 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 whimsical, unpredictable and ruthless the game can be.
He grew up in the Florida Marlins organization and was a September call up in 2002. On Jan. 10, 2003, he married Kristin, who lived in Fort Lauderdale. 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 St. Louis).
"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."
And we'll root for Nate Robertson.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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