The best hitter on Davidson’s ridiculously overachieving baseball team was one of those decent high school athletes who had everyone shrugging their shoulders. Will Robertson was just fine at the high-school level, college coaches believed, but he would have no chance at the next.
Now Robertson is a star on a Davidson team that has made a crazy run to the NCAA baseball tournament’s Sweet 16. Back then he was a baseball pitcher who had arm trouble, a nice kid who swung a bat OK on occasion. But really, who was going to offer Robertson a full Division I athletic scholarship? Or even a partial scholarship?
Exactly nobody, it turned out. Ask Robertson about his recruitment and he laughs and says: “You mean my lack of recruitment?”
Originally from Greenville, S.C., Robertson was smart enough to get admitted into Davidson and decided he would walk on to the baseball team, too.
“I got a practice jersey,” he says, “and half a locker.”
“We told him we would give him the fall to try and make the 35-man roster,” Davidson coach Dick Cooke says.
Robertson made the team. And now, even as a senior outfielder who was part of the two biggest plays in Davidson’s second straight upset victory over North Carolina on Sunday night, he’s still a walk-on.
Robertson has hit 18 home runs this season – breaking a Davidson single-season record that had stood for 24 years. He is a third-team Collegiate Baseball All-American – the only player that publication singled out for All-American recognition in the entire Atlantic 10 conference.
But Robertson still doesn’t have a piece of the very small scholarship pie the Wildcats dole out each season – and he never has. Davidson gives out fewer than three full scholarships for baseball and splits those up a dozen ways. The NCAA scholarship limit for Division I baseball is 11.7, and most of the top NCAA baseball teams use all 11.7 of those.
Leading the team with a .336 average, Robertson will be a key if Davidson is going to pull another series of upsets in its best-of-three super regional on the road against Texas A&M starting at 3 p.m. Friday and continuing at 6 p.m. Saturday. Both games are on ESPN2.
As for his fielding – well, Robertson just doesn’t want to mess up in right field. “He’s not out there for defense,” Cooke says of Robertson. “We just want him to drive in more than he lets in.”
Throw of a lifetime
It was Robertson’s arm, however, that helped quell North Carolina’s ninth-inning rally Sunday night. Davidson was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth vs. the Tar Heels Sunday night when UNC got a single to right. With runners already on first and second and only one out, the hit seemed likely to score the tying run.
But Robertson charged the ball and threw a one-hopper on a direct line to catcher Jake Sidwell, who made the decisive tag after UNC’s Brandon Riley missed home plate on his initial slide. It was the first time in his collegiate career that Robertson had thrown out a runner at home plate.
Before that, Robertson had knocked in Davidson’s only two runs of the game on a single. At the end of the game he received a reward from his teammates – a cheap strand of party beads that the Wildcats give out to each other when somebody does something big. Robertson still had them on the next day when he got off the team bus back in Davidson.
“The beads started with one of our relief pitchers who said ‘Earn the beads’ for some reason,” Robertson says. “So we actually went out to Party City and got some. And whenever somebody does well, he throws on some Mardi Gras beads.”
‘If someone gives me a chance ...’
Most of Davidson’s players know college baseball will be the end of their careers. Robertson, however, isn’t quite ready to give up on that dream. And why not? He wasn’t supposed to make it as a college baseball player, either. He just graduated with a degree in economics and a 3.5 grade-point average, and he has a job tentatively lined up with the local company Red Ventures in data analytics.
“If someone gives me a chance to play, I will play,” Robertson says. “Coming into this season, the chances of that were next to none. But things have gone pretty well, so hopefully I get a shot.”
Cooke has been campaigning with baseball scouts on Robertson’s behalf recently and said a few have been “intrigued.”
Says Cooke of Robertson’s pro prospects: “What will be challenging for him is he’s a stock outfielder kind of guy. If he hit eight home runs? No. The fact he’s hit 18? That at least is going to get the conversation going. … He’s a serviceable outfielder at the college level. But if he gets a chance past here, it’s going to be because somebody thinks his bat might play.”
In college, that bat certainly plays. Nearly half of Robertson’s hits this season have been for extra bases.
Batting second for Davidson all season in his first year as a full-time starter, Robertson once hit two homers in back-to-back games this season. How he would dearly love at least one more of those in College Station, Texas, this weekend – and how much his teammates would be able to use it.
A big hit like that during a nationally televised series like this might get him more than another strand of beads from Party City and another unlikely win for Davidson, although both would certainly be nice. It might get him a job swinging a bat at some minor-league ballpark instead of tapping a keyboard as a data analyst.
Maybe you don’t think that would be a good tradeoff. But it’s Robertson’s dream, not ours – and he’s edging closer every day to making it happen.
Davidson at Texas A&M
Davidson plays Texas A&M in a best-of-3 super regional starting Friday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2) and continuing at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The first team to win two games in the series will secure a berth in the eight-team College World Series in Omaha later this month.