Baseball players understand the business side of the game -- even those who've sipped only a cup of coffee in The Show. For the past 15 years, the business of baseball has left an indelible mark on Trayvon Robinson. And for 15 years, he's tried to leave one on the game he loves.
"I've learned a lot," said Robinson, who is with his eighth Major League organization. "By being in Venezuela, winter ball, independent ball ... I had to change some mind-sets, some approaches, but right now, this is kind of working."
"Right now" is Spring Training with the Chicago White Sox. That the 32-year-old even buttons up a big league uniform is a modern-day Crash Davis tale that sounds like it's straight out of "Bull Durham."
A native of Los Angeles, Robinson survived a tough neighborhood where street gangs were commonplace. When he was a teenager, stray bullets riddled his house, a side effect of random violence. Two weeks before he was drafted, a group of men attacked Robinson and a friend. Like many inner-city youths, sports were a way out.
He played baseball at Crenshaw High School, which has produced several notable big league alums, including Darryl Strawberry, Ellis Valentine and Chris Brown. The Dodgers selected Robinson in the 10th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
In the previous two years, Los Angeles had stockpiled outfielders Xavier Paul, Matt Kemp, Anthony Raglani and B.J. Richmond in early rounds. Even in '05, Sergio Pedroza was the team's third-round selection.
"I wasn't a big money guy -- 50 grand out of high school," Robinson said. "It was already an uphill battle for me, but I knew what I could bring to the ballpark. I didn't really care about who lined up against me.
"We had other [bonus] guys, but the funny thing is, I was going to line up with them. I felt like that was another opportunity for me to just go out there and do what I do. No matter how big my pockets are, there's some kind of value."
At the 2011 Trade Deadline, Seattle saw value in Robinson. He became part of a three-team deal in which headliners Erik Bedard and Josh Fields moved to Boston while L.A. shipped Robinson to the Mariners.
Five days later, Robinson made his Major League debut on Aug. 5, batting ninth against All-Star Jered Weaver, who was in the midst of an 18-8 season. By the time Robinson dug in with two out in the bottom of the third inning, Weaver had yielded two hits but had faced the minimum, thanks to a pickoff and a runner caught stealing. Robinson whiffed for Weaver's third punchout of the frame.
In the bottom of the third, Angels slugger Torii Hunter stepped to the dish against lefty Jason Vargas. With two down and Bobby Abreu leading off first base, Vargas left an 80-mph offering in the strike zone, and Hunter cranked the ball toward the left-field seats. Robinson raced to the wall...
Playing in front of family and friends, Robinson had made a highlight-reel grab -- and robbed Hunter of a homer -- and the first thing he thought about was "Where's my hat?" While making the grab, his cap fell into the first row of seats. A fan handed it back to the newest member of the SportsCenter Top 10 fraternity.
Robinson chalked up his first big league hit in the sixth -- also against Weaver, who would be runner-up to Detroit's Justin Verlander in the Cy Young voting. He finished 1-for-3 in the Mariners' 1-0 loss in 10 innings.
The next night, he homered in the seventh to chase Angels starter Tyler Chatwood. Two games into his Major League career and Robinson was flying high. (Fun fact: He does not like flying. "I like traveling, but I'd much rather ride," he said.)
"You know, I was young, 23 years old. I thought I had it made," Robinson admitted. "Maybe not technically 'had it made,' but I believed it for that first month. And then September came around, and my playing time just slowed down."
Across the final two months of the season, Robinson batted .210 with two homers, 14 RBIs and 12 runs. Seattle finished 67-95, last in the American League West.
"I came back into Spring Training and did well, hit like .550 with like 20 at-bats, limited time," he said. Officially, he was 9-for-17 (.529) with the eighth-fewest at-bats. When the Mariners broke camp for a two-game set in Japan against Oakland, the team's outfielders were Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders, Ichiro Suzuki and Caspee Wells.
"And I got sent down to Triple-A," Robinson said. "I guess that's when reality started coming."
Expecting to spend his summer in the Great Northwest, Robinson had envisioned Seattle -- not Tacoma. "I took my three days [to report]," he said. "I literally just left. I didn't pick up a bat. I didn't look at a baseball. For three days, I didn't want to think about baseball.
"I didn't want to come back real salty. I can't be salty at 24 years old, but yeah, I was pissed. I was. I didn't know what road [the Mariners] was trying to go. I was asking myself, 'Why the hell would you trade for me?' It was a lot of stuff going through my head, and I just knew that I had to get away."
His stay at Triple-A lasted 83 games, during which he hit .265 with nine homers, 50 runs scored, 41 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. On July 24, he returned to Seattle.
"I'm a real big believer in you've got to use everything you got, man," Robinson said. "Not just one tool, so I just wanted to keep it up -- hit, run, do everything I could."
Back in the Major Leagues, he batted .221 across 46 games. Robinson's last big league appearance to date was against the Angels on Oct. 3, 2012, the season finale. He went 2-for-4 and scored once as Seattle bested 20-game winner Weaver and Rookie of the Year Mike Trout in a 12-0 victory.
Surely there would be more time to enjoy the finer things of a life lived playing baseball. Robinson was certain 2013 -- and beyond -- would be the best of times. They were, instead, the worst of times.
During the offseason, Robinson packed for a cross-country trip to Baltimore, traded for infielder Robert Andino. After dividing the '13 season between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, the Dodgers signed him to a free-agent deal and he spent the year with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Then came 2015. Robinson signed with (and departed from) three teams -- San Diego, Arizona and Detroit. Indeed, the business of baseball can be a bitter mistress to those who give their heart and soul to the game, but he was not ready to hang up the spikes.
"I was still reaching out to teams and the only thing I was getting is, I was too old," Robinson said. "Well, that's how life works. Eventually, people get old, you know. But I didn't let that stop me.
"I started reflecting on what I've actually learned. For me to get back into the game, going through those bumps in the road, I knew I could play."
Robinson spent three years toiling in independent ball, including a .295/.382/.442 showing in 2018 with Lancaster of the Atlantic League. That led to a Minor League deal with Pittsburgh -- only after he paid for his Spring Training trip to Bradenton, Florida, emptying his bank account to cover the costs for another chance to suit up.
He played last year for Triple-A Indianapolis and notched a career milestone on Aug. 14 against Rochester. Leading off the bottom of the fourth against No. 20 Twins prospect Griffin Jax, Robinson launched a 3-1 pitch over the right-field wall for his 100th Minor League long ball. After batting .297 with seven homers, 36 RBIs and 31 runs with the Indians, he again opted for free agency.
Fifteen years after being drafted by the hometown Dodgers, Robinson's $50,000 signing bonus is long gone. Truth be told, it was history by the time he rolled into Chattanooga in 2010, when he hit .300 for the second straight season. He has slogged through Caracas and Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League and hustled around Somerset and Lancaster in indy ball.
Why would anyone continue to court such a fickle profession? At the end of the night, a manager's game report or a scout's note to the front office can be make-or-break in the bus leagues.
"It was just the teammates, the guys I was around," Robinson said. "We all shared the same story. It was baseball. Coming up in high-A, Double-A, Triple-A, even the big leagues, just coming to the ballpark. It's exciting, just hanging out with some of those guys. ... You're not making anything, so it doesn't matter about money."
His jaunt around the the country has touched every time zone. There are 9,611 miles between Los Angeles, Seattle, Baltimore, San Diego, Phoenix, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago. That's a 144-hour trip, not including his tours through the Gulf Coast, Pioneer, Florida State, Midwest, California, Southern, Pacific Coast, International, Eastern and Arizona Fall leagues.
"I was always looking for validation from somebody else," he noted. "When I was in independent ball, I was like, 'You guys, believe in yourself and just keep going. Somebody will come get you.'"
This time, the White Sox came to get Robinson. That is, after all, the business of baseball.
The switch-hitting outfielder, however, is not thinking about retirement -- "Hey, I'm only 32" -- but admitted he wants to remain in the game. "Managing, that's for catchers," he said. "I'd much rather do a coordinator job. It would make no sense for me not to give back what I've learned. I'm not the only one that actually came out of a tough situation to make it to the big leagues.
"I just want to ... you keep fighting until they take the jersey off your back. Simple as that."
Duane Cross is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DuaneCrossMiLB.