CLEVELAND: Daniel Robertson grew up in a mobile home in La Puente, Calif., his father a construction worker supporting the family.
Robertson watched as his father, Michael, woke up at 4 a.m. for work every day. Michael Robertson made himself lunch in the dark, sat in traffic for a couple hours, worked his shift at the construction yard, sat in another couple hours of traffic on the way back and then came home to his family, never once complaining or letting up on his fatherly duties.
Well, that’s just working hard. That’s just what you do, every day. There is no other way to approach life.
Those are the lessons Daniel Robertson’s father taught him.
Now 31 years old and an outfielder with the Indians, it’s how he approaches his own life. It’s also how he plays baseball as one of the grittiest players in the game who has worked for every opportunity that’s been given and who plays as hard and with as much excitement for the game as anyone else you’ll see in the league.
Like father, like son.
Michael had the construction yard. Daniel has the baseball diamond. Michael had a hammer and a tool belt. Daniel has his bat and glove. Both approach their jobs exactly the same way — the only way they know how, really.
Robertson does everything hard. He plays hard, he runs into walls hard (he recently made a terrific catch and did so while bouncing off the right-field wall like a bowling ball), he celebrates after a big play with the same excitement he’s played with since he was a little kid. This season, he was out with a hamstring injury he sustained at the end of spring training but once healthy — and in part because of injuries at the major-league level — he was called up and has played well, hitting .294 with a .429 on-base percentage in 21 plate appearances entering Sunday’s game.
He’s listed at 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds, and drives that frame to get every ounce out of it. He fits in well with the city of Cleveland’s blue-collar way of going about things. You grab your lunch pail, go to work and punch the clock.
“You’ll always find people who are bigger, strong, faster and, sure, when people say you can’t do something, it adds to the fire,” Robertson said. “But most importantly, I have to understand there are things I have to take care of on a daily basis so I’m getting better for tomorrow. There are only so many hours in the day, so if I’m wasting it on what people are saying, I might miss something.”
Plan of attack
Robertson’s philosophy is to never let up, to always play with reckless abandon. Never let anyone else work harder. It’s fueled his career. And it first and foremost came from watching dad.
“This is Major League Baseball. It’s what we do,” Robertson said. “It’s your job and you have a responsibility because it says ‘Cleveland’ across my chest. So I’m representing more than just myself. My dad showed me that, how you’re supposed to work hard because he was representing more than just himself. He also had a son to take care of.”
A younger Robertson looked for the same qualities in his sports heroes. It isn’t a surprise to learn that Pete Rose was his favorite player growing up. Or that he wanted to emulate Derek Jeter. Or that he wanted to take qualities from Brett Favre and Walter Payton — Robertson was a slot receiver in high school, a position that often requires toughness running routes over the middle of the field.
“There were a lot of guys that I looked up to who played with all-out effort,” Robertson said. “I tried to pick a little bit from all of them. I tried to look at anybody who played the game hard and the right way. … Favre in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, throwing that touchdown pass, running down the field with his helmet in the air and jumping into his lineman’s arms showed that team aspect, caring about the guys you’re going into battle with.
“And then one play, Jeter’s oppo-bomb in November in 2001. It’s late into the night, the clock strikes midnight, and he drives the ball the other way. It just epitomized how the game can change in an instant and how it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. It was a huge moment for understanding how you go about your business.”
Robertson attended Oregon State University and was drafted in the 33rd round by the San Diego Padres in 2008. He first cracked the big leagues with the Texas Rangers in 2014. He then moved on to the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, the Seattle Mariners in 2016 and now the Indians after he came to camp as a nonroster invitee.
He’s been in five different organizations and worn three different numbers over the past four seasons, all the while having to earn playing time with a new organization each season. Through it all, he’s kept his father’s lessons in mind. Little has changed in that regard.
“He told me, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, do it with every ounce of your soul,’?” Robertson said. “?‘If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it the right way and do it as hard as you possibly can. Don’t half-ass it. Never take any opportunity for granted.’ That has stuck with me today.”
Robertson still routinely speaks with his dad. But it’s never about his mechanics or his swing or his first step in the outfield. It’s all in how he carries himself.
“If I ever feel like I’m struggling, he just says keep working hard,” Robertson said. “Never says anything about adjustments or things I should do, he just says, ‘Work hard, never give up.’?”
So Robertson shows up every day and does what he needs to do, goes where he’s supposed to go and worries only about what he needs to worry about.
And he does it because every day when Daniel was a kid, Michael Robertson woke up at 4 a.m. to make himself lunch and worked as hard as he could to support all those he represented in that mobile home in La Puente, Calif.
Anything less would be unacceptable.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RyanLewisABJ