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Robinson set to help Giants prioritize mental health in new role

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Drew Robinson's incredible comeback never got him from Triple-A back to the big leagues, but his presence was felt at Oracle Park all season long. 

Robinson was a regular in the clubhouse after announcing his retirement, and he was around when the Giants clinched the NL West on the final day of the season and during the NLDS. Players often warmed up or did postgame interviews in black "End The Stigma" t-shirts that represented the organization's commitment to mental health, and manager Gabe Kapler said watching Anthony DeSclafani do a bullpen session in one of the shirts was one of his favorite moments early in the season.

Robinson felt right at home in the Giants organization, and that should be the case for a while. He joined the front office after announcing his retirement in July and said the plan is for him to be a "bridge" between players and mental health professionals. 

"I know how uncomfortable it feels to reach out to a professional and also someone higher up in the organization," Robinson said during a recent interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. "It might feel intimidating. It might feel like a little bit of distrust that they might tell other people what this player is going though ... I think (I'm) just being a bridge because I know how uncomfortable it might feel in the players' shoes, but I also have experienced the benefits of therapy, so (I'm) trying to mesh it too, with the background of baseball and also the background of being a patient myself."

 

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Robinson's own experiences have made him the perfect choice for the Giants, who brought him in as a player before the 2021 season, which he spent much of in Triple-A. The former fourth-round pick attempted suicide in April of 2020 but survived the gunshot wound. That alone would have made for an incredible story, but Robinson added to it by making a comeback as a player, and in the Giants, he found the perfect partner. 

Manager Gabe Kapler and the front office have made mental health a priority and it is something Kapler talks about openly, a rarity in professional sports. The Giants hired Shana Alexander as their director of mental health and wellness and Robinson credits Alexander with helping him transition after his playing days were over. Alexander saw that Robinson, who was brought in by Kapler to speak to the big league team during the shortened 2020 season, was having an impact on minor league teammates. 

"We started realizing that some of the other guys were starting to open up a little bit, so she was wondering if I could try to do that within the whole organization, and at the time I was thinking about retiring and coming home (to Las Vegas) and working at Target or something," Robinson said. "So I was like, 'I get to stay around baseball. I get to stay around the people that love me and care about me as a person.' Like, of course I would do that, so it just kind of naturally happened."

Robinson's words carry weight not just because of his own experiences, but because of his background as a big leaguer. He played 100 games over three seasons with the Rangers and Cardinals, hitting nine homers, and he goes back to his playing days when describing his future role.

Robinson played six different positions in the big leagues and said he is a "jack of all trades" when he visits minor league affiliates these days. One day he's a mental health advocate, the next he almost feels like a coach. Robinson is in the clubhouse during his minor league visits and he is working on starting a peer support system that the Giants can use at every level. 

When it comes to dealing with mental health, the Giants are far ahead of most professional organizations, but they are just getting started. Robinson will be a huge part of the effort, and he has talked openly with fellow players over the last couple of years about how important all of this is and the benefits of taking care of your mental health. He said it's something he believes 100 percent of baseball players can benefit from, and the Giants are hopeful that preventative mental health care becomes as common as working on physical fitness before a game or taking ground balls. 

 
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"If you had the opportunity to go see a doctor preventatively to avoid a heart attack everyone would do that. Why wait until you have an emotional heart attack to go get help?" Robinson said on this week's Giants Talk Podcast. "It's buying into the idea that it's not a scary thing, and then it's also something that's just going to naturally help you understand what's happening in each situation of your life, each phase of your life. I feel comfortable saying that 100 percent of people can benefit from doing this work and a lot of the time it doesn't even feel like work. 

"It just feels like something that you take pride in doing and I feel like that's where I've gotten to. I feel really prideful and I'm proud of myself to say that I do therapy and I do a bunch of self-work and say the words like self-love. At first it feels weird because it feels a little corny, it feels a little cheesy, but eventually you get to a point where it feels weird not to do it."

To learn even more about Drew Robinson's harrowing journey from suicide attempt to inspiring comeback, watch the extended interview on YouTube