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‘I shouldn’t be here’: Drew Robinson’s journey from suicide attempt to mental health advocate with San Francisco Giants organization

You never know what’s going on in someone’s mind. Not really.

Drew Robinson seemingly had it all. He had realized his dream of reaching the major leagues. Despite bouncing between the bigs and the minors for a couple of seasons, he had just signed a spring training invitation with a new organization. He had family and a girlfriend who loved him.

Yet, underneath it all, he never felt he was worthy or deserved any of it.

Three years ago Sunday , on April 16, 2020, Robinson tried to kill himself.

After careful planning and almost endless hours thinking about everything from when to how to where – and who would find his body, Robinson sat on the couch in his living room, picked up the handgun he’d bought solely for the purpose and shot himself in the right temple.

And for the next 20 hours, in and out of consciousness and the fog of pain, he wondered why the bullet didn’t kill him – and if he still wanted to die.

Ultimately, his answer was, “No.”

Starting over

Someone with seemingly so much to live for made the conscious decision to end it all – but that scenario plays out every day in America in shockingly high numbers, fueled by the lack of access to mental health resources and the ease of access to instruments of death.

That reality, plus his survival from the bullet that went through his head and out the other side but did not kill him – nothing short of miraculous, according to his doctors – is what drives Robinson in his career after his playing days.

“I shouldn’t be here right now,” Robinson said Friday at Avista Stadium.

Robinson was in town to visit the Eugene Emeralds as the San Francisco Giants’ traveling mental health advocate – what Robinson calls a “bridge” between the players and the organization’s mental health professionals.

“Being someone who was in the players’ shoes for 12 seasons, I knew what it was like to possibly hold back from reaching out for a resource like that and worrying about how it would be viewed from a coach’s viewpoint or from the organization,” he said.

“I learned the hard way that these things are actually incredibly beneficial and helpful. So, I’m just trying to help bridge that gap and help players and staff feel a little more comfortable utilizing that resource that realistically is life changing, and in some cases, life saving.”

The way up

Robinson’s story has been well told. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and many other outlets have written detailed stories about his ordeal, recovery and triumphant return to the baseball field.

Robinson struggled his entire life with feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. The youngest of three children, in a family that sometimes had trouble expressing themselves emotionally, he found himself and what he thought to be his purpose on the baseball field.

But a profession that demands perfection – with every mistake made in front of thousands of fans and recorded for evaluation on a nightly basis – is a tricky place for someone seeking it within themselves.

“I knew at times I felt off,” he said. “I had no idea what the word was to use, how to explain how I was feeling off.”

Still, Robinson thrived on the field. Despite some rocky times in the minor leagues – he hit .163 in 45 games for the short-season Spokane Indians in 2011 as part of the Texas Rangers’ organization – he made his major league debut in 2017.

He bounced up and down from the majors to Triple-A. He was released twice before signing a minor league deal with the Giants in January 2020 with an invite to spring training.

He played in 12 games for the club that spring, then the pandemic hit, shutting down baseball along with everything else.

The whole time, unbeknownst to his teammates, family and friends – and despite the new possibilities on the field with the Giants – Robinson was planning his death.

The incident

In lockdown, alone at his home in Las Vegas, Robinson had time to think about nothing else. On March 30, he purchased the handgun and 16 days later he decided it was time.

The gunshot wound destroyed his right eye and exited from his left cheek, but it didn’t kill him. Doctors were shocked that he survived to begin with and that it didn’t do more damage.

According to previous reporting, Robinson spent the next 20 hours bleeding, disoriented and even at some points trying to shower, brush his teeth and attempting to clean up the aftermath.

He settled back on the couch in the same blood-stained spot where he first pulled the trigger, with the gun in one hand and his phone in the other, and 911 ready to dial.

He opted for help.

It wasn’t easy, but in the months after, Robinson connected in a deeper way with his family and friends, more so than before.

“All my friends, I was incredibly close with them. I had really supportive friends that nobody saw it coming. I heard so many times, ‘Never.’ Like, ‘Never would have thought it was gonna be you. Never thought you.’ ”

The comeback

During that 20-hour period, Robinson said he had a recurring thought: “Would I be able to play baseball again?” He told ESPN reporter Jeff Passan in 2021 that was one thing he used to rationalize calling for help.

The first responders who arrived at the scene stabilized him, then specialists reconstructed his face. After 12 days in the hospital and another five in a psychiatric hospital, Robinson’s next task was to rebuild his physique and figure out if he could hit a baseball with one eye.

All the while, the Giants stood behind him.

Robinson worked out tirelessly. He found batting practice to be therapeutic – struggling at first but quickly finding that powerful stroke that carried him to the big leagues in the first place.

Late in the 2020 season, Robinson asked to speak with the Giants players at Oracle Park in what became a poignant and emotional scene. He figured sharing his experience was the best way to help others – and help his own recovery.

Soon after the regular season ended, Robinson received a call from the Giants: If he was up to it physically and he wanted to, they would honor his minor league contract from the previous year with an invitation to spring training.

Remarkably, with one eye, Robinson found success on the field again. He only hit .115 in 38 games for Triple-A Sacramento in 2021, but he hit three home runs and proved to the world – and himself – that he was indeed worthy.

Building a bridge

On July 21, 2021, Robinson retired from playing.

“I’m very fortunate that I’m one of the very few lucky ones, grateful ones that got to go out on my own terms,” he said. “I played long enough and know plenty of people that that wasn’t the case. And it becomes a very challenging thing, that transition after playing baseball.

“I feel like I got a little bit extra than I maybe could have gotten.”

Robinson’s transition into his new role as mental health advocate, with the full backing of the Giants’ organization, was a logical one.

“Because my story is as public as it is, and I’m known for that more than my baseball career, I get to really hear and see and talk about the whole makeup of a person, and realize that whoever I’m talking to – baseball player, company CEO, whatever – there’s a lot of, ‘Me too,’ said and a lot of, ‘I felt that, I’ve felt similar.’

“You can’t achieve your way out of these things. We’re all human, we all feel the same chemical reactions that create stress, worry, regret, all these things. … That’s why I think that empathy card and love and that relatability card is so much stronger and so much more prevalent than we’re aware of.”

Now in his second season as mental health advocate, Robinson spends several weeks with the Giants and visits each of their full-season affiliates two or three times each.

Robinson travels with his goldendoodle Ellie, who he describes as “the world’s most natural stress reliever.”

He has embraced his role and said he believes every MLB team will have full-time mental health services in place in the near future, similar to the advances in medical and training facilities over the past 20 years.

“I think it’s an amazing thing that we’ve seen so many athletes willing to talk about these pretty uncomfortable, horrible, vulnerable things in a way that are putting themselves first with hopes to help them perform better for their for their job or for their family,” he said.

The type of services he helps facilitate were not available to him a few years ago.

“I think about that a lot,” he said. “I try not to let myself get too deep into that thought because it’s one of the ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ things I’ll never know. But it’s easy to at least use that thought to fuel me to try to help the next person avoid getting to where I got to.”

Robinson said that although it will be difficult to eliminate completely, the days of players “toughing it out” physically or mentally are starting to ease as organizations make more investment in their well-being , starting at the lowest levels of the minor leagues through to the big leagues.

“I think the one common thing is that not everyone knows if they’re necessarily self-sufficient or self-able,” he said. “I think that’s the very basic understanding that I have now from mental health resources is just that it’s a place to help you learn more about yourself and this place to explore yourself with some guidance with some professional help.”