Drew Robinson's comeback started because he was trying to say goodbye to baseball.
Three months after surviving a suicide attempt, Robinson went to the batting cages to close that chapter of his life.
When he took a few swings off a tee, his body felt terrible. Robinson was stiff after months of rehab, but he noticed that familiar feeling coming back with every swing. He started hitting underhand tosses and the next day he came back to swing at overhand pitches. It wasn't perfect, not anywhere close, but Robinson was making regular contact, far more than he expected with one eye.
As Robinson sat around after those sessions, a thought started to form in his head.
"Am I crazy to think I could play?" he asked. "Like, that would be pretty cool, huh? To play with one eye. That would be a really cool thing to say after everything that's happened, and from then, I just never stopped showing up."
Those initial workouts took Robinson back to the basics and kicked off a series of videos that served as an audition of sorts. Robinson would film himself working on parts of his game and text videos to Gabe Kapler and other members of the Giants organization.
It started with Robinson flipping a ball slowly off a wall in a backyard and catching it, and then he graduated to catching low fly balls thrown into the sun by a friend. Before long, Robinson was doing normal defensive drills and hitting different speeds and pitch shapes in batting practice, and in November, Kapler called with an invite to minor league spring training. That led to one of the highlights of the sports year.
On May 11, about 13 months after he attempted to take his own life with a handgun, and less than a year after those initial swings off a tee, Robinson pulled a solo homer to right field in a Triple-A game. It came in his hometown, Las Vegas, and in just his fourth game back on the field. The tears filled his eyes as he rounded the bases.
"It felt like time stopped," Robinson said. "When it (got out), I got to really feel the eruption of emotions and hear the crowd again, and I felt like it went quiet. I remember telling myself to soak it in, soak it in."
Robinson slapped hands with his third base coach and then looked up to the sky and thought about family members. He made a gesture covering his right eye, which had been removed after the suicide attempt, and then broke into a wide smile as he crossed the plate. Robinson pointed to family members in the stands with both arms.
That home run ball now rests on a shelf in Robinson's home alongside signed baseballs from Derek Jeter and Bartolo Colon, the lineup card from his final Triple-A game, and the goggles he wore in the clubhouse when he was brought into the Giants' NL West celebration on the final day of the season. It's a reminder of that journey back to the batter's box, but also that Robinson did something pretty incredible once he got there.
Hitting a baseball when you're completely healthy is one of the hardest things to do in sports. While Robinson's overall numbers were down and he struck out in the majority of his at-bats, he did homer three times during the 2021 season. In 38 games for the River Cats, Robinson had 11 hits and drew 14 walks, and he did it all while tracking the baseball with just one eye.
"It still was definitely the hardest thing ever to do and my numbers will prove that for you," Robinson said on this week's "Giants Talk," laughing. "It was interesting because I was fighting myself so much throughout the year because, from a visual standpoint, I felt very comfortable. I was battling myself and saying that the reason I'm struggling is because I took a year and a half off from actually playing and then I made some swing adjustments that didn't really accomplish what I wanted to.
"So I was battling myself and trying to justify that it was my mechanics or something, but getting close to my retirement, I was finally able to say, 'You know what, maybe it's because you have one less eye, dude. Stop being so hard on yourself.'"
To learn even more about Drew Robinson's harrowing journey from suicide attempt to inspiring comeback, watch the extended interview on YouTube