Robinson helps hometown team to opening win

SARASOTA, Fla. – A finality of a two-run walk-off homer has to begin somewhere. For the Orioles in yesterday’s exhibition opener, Colton Cowser couldn’t send everybody home unless a batter ahead of him reached base.

Errol Robinson, who’s going to be working out at Twin Lakes Park, dumped a single into left field and moved up on a wild pitch before Cowser cleared the left-center field fence in a 4-3 win over the Red Sox.

Cowser was mobbed at home plate. Robinson was thrilled to be counted among the extras and used as a pinch-runner and shortstop replacement for Jorge Mateo in the fifth inning.

(How do you know it’s spring training? When Jorge Mateo is removed for a pinch-runner.)

The Orioles announced 20 non-roster invites and Robinson wasn’t on the list after he signed a minor league deal on Jan. 10. He played in Triple-A for parts of three seasons. He seemed like a slam dunk to enter the infield and utility competitions.

“I was told that I’d be brought over,” he said. “Definitely, it would be cool to be on the non-roster invite list or on the 40-man. I’ll take anything. Up is the way that I plan on going. But just being over here, being surrounded by good people, everybody here has been great.

“They’re all similar age. I played against a lot of them, played with some of them, so it’s not quite like I’m not on the roster. I know some guys, even though I’m not there technically. I feel like one of the guys. It’s a good feeling.”

Robinson, 29, is a career .251/.332/.347 hitter in seven minor league seasons and hasn’t reached the majors. He’s totaled 82 doubles, 10 triples, 28 home runs, 196 RBIs and 95 stolen bases.

Joining the Orioles organization is a homecoming of sorts, since Robinson was born in Boyds, Md., and attended St. John’s College High School in D.C. He went with the team that expressed the most interest in him and didn’t care about the number of players who could block him.

“A lot of infielders, a lot of everybody,” he said. “There’s a lot of good talent all around. You saw that early with the comeback win with guys who aren’t necessarily on the team. There’s depth everywhere.

“I chatted with (vice president of player development and domestic scouting) Matt Blood before signing the contract and it was kind of like a utility thing. There’s opportunities in the outfield for maybe one guy, there’s an opportunity in the infield for maybe one guy. The opportunity seemed like it was there.

“If there’s an opportunity to play, I’m going to take it. And honestly, I didn’t get too many other offers in the offseason, so when they called me I figured, I better come out there and come back home.”

Robinson used to cheer the Orioles from the stands. He’s still wrapping his head around the idea of playing for them.

“People say ‘surreal,’ right?” he said. “That word is so used, ‘surreal.’ I’m going to try to find another word.”

A few seconds pass and Robinson settles for “fantastic,” “astounding” and “amazing.” Reach base earlier in the day and then reach for the proper term.

“It’s a blessing to wear some Orioles gear,” he said. “I’ve been going to so many games as a kid. Shoot, as a middle schooler coming up. That’s where I learned how to play, how to watch and learn from professionals. Brian Roberts and J.J. Hardy are here right now (as guest instructors). That was the double play combination I watched my entire life.

“Grew up a Braves fan, but I was an Orioles game-goer. I really enjoyed going to the games, and they’re here now. I get a chance to learn from them. I’m enjoying myself.”

Robinson can’t brag that he’s on the 40-man roster or among the invites, but he’s gotten some work at the Ed Smith Stadium complex – and one big hit in the first game.

He'll take it, and so will his manager.

“Nice to see Robinson get on base for us there,” said Brandon Hyde. “Errol’s been helping us out in camp quite a bit. He’s been out there every day taking ground balls.”

The Orioles will make the short trip to Bradenton this morning to play the Pirates in their first road contest. Left-hander Cole Irvin gets the start.

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