Growing up with five brothers on the north side of Chicago, Rays minor league pitching coordinator Dewey Robinson was exposed at an early age to sport and competition.
Baseball, football and hockey were part of his youth, and he also had an opportunity to spend a great deal of his summer attending baseball games at Wrigley Field, seeing the best players the National League had to offer.
"I always wanted to play in the big leagues while I was growing up, and I knew I wasn't big enough to play football," said Robinson. "I was very blessed to be able to make it out of high school and get a scholarship to Southern Illinois University (at Carbondale)."
He was exposed to competing on a grander scale as a teenager, pitching several times in Commiskey Park and had the opportunity to play football at Soldier Field.
Robinson would also go onto pitch in the College World Series twice, working several games during his freshman year, and then once again as a senior. However, he wished to continue his career as a professional, and would be drafted in the lower rounds by the Chicago White Sox, something they did with kids from the Chicago area, with owner Bill Veeck understanding the drawing power the team would have, if there were a number of players with local ties in the organization. He was selected in the 19th round of the 1977 amateur draft.
"I felt blessed after I signed my contract, and I actually asked the farm director how did I get signed, and he basically told me very honest, he said, 'You're just like 1,000 other college guys. But we followed your career in the area and knew what you were doing, and figured you deserved a chance."
Robinson's trajectory found him ascending to the major leagues rapidly, appearing in 30 games for the White Sox. He would bounce back and forth between Triple-A and the parent club. He pitched for the White Sox between 1979-1981.
"I was kind of like the 12th man back then on an 11 man staff, or even the 11th man on a 10 man staff," said Robinson.
He would pitch through 1982, splitting his final year between the Pirates and Brewers organizations at the Triple-A level.
Robinson would stay close to home becoming a volunteer coach at Northwestern University, spending two years in that role, where there was a freshman catcher on the team at the time named Joe Girardi. While Robinson was there, the program finished above .500 for the first time in the school's history. He would transition into a coaching role at the University of Missouri, but his desire was to return to professional baseball, and it would be with the organization he spent the majority of his professional career with, the Chicago White Sox.
"It's been a long route, but a very neat and blessed one," said Robinson. "I got a chance to keep a uniform on my whole life, and make a living coaching or playing professional baseball."
Ironically, Robinson would be teammates with someone with the same name, the 1983 American League Cy Young Award winner, Dewey LaMarr Hoyt.
"He got traded from the New York Yankees," said Robinson. "First of all, there were no Deweys around at all, and now there were two Deweys on the same pitching staff at the same time."
He was also a teammate for several years with future Hall of Famer Harold Baines, who was selected first overall by the White Sox in the 1977 amateur draft.
In addition to the 10 years he spent with the White Sox organization as a coach, he served as the parent club's bullpen coach in 1993 and 1994, and another 12 years with the Astros, serving as Houston's pitching coach in 2008 and 2009.
However, it's in his role as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Rays that Robinson continues to make an impact at the professional level. There are a number of phases associated with the development process.
"The first part is pitch development, you have to have pitches to get outs; we're constantly looking at command, and then there's the physical and conditioning side," said Robinson. "Especially in Port Charlotte, when it's 95 degrees out every day. It takes a lot out of you. There's a lot of facets to it, but mainly between the lines, the mental, physical and emotional part, you just try to continue to develop that because that never stops, no matter what level you are."
But there's one thing that Robinson does place an emphasis on and that's preparing pitchers for the reality of what they're going to face going up the levels, by making them uncomfortable. It's all part of the development process.
"We call it the three-tier effect," said Robinson. "Fans at all three levels, and that makes a big difference in the level, being able to handle it. It's what we're all about."