By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

Irony can be such a funny thing.

Heading into the Major League Baseball draft last month, Alex Robinett had long been a Seattle Mariners fan. He had long hated the New York Yankees — the Evil Empire, as the franchise is referred to by some in baseball circles.

“It’s easy to hate the best,” Robinett said this week by phone from Staten Island, New York, “and they’ve consistently been at the top of the majors. It’s easy to always not like them.”

Robinett began to laugh, thinking back to the final day of the draft. Round 32, pick 963, the New York Yankees, winners of 27 World Series titles, select right-handed pitcher Alex Robinett out of Army West Point.

“I’m working on getting the Yankees to be my favorite team,” said Robinett, a 2011 graduate of Bend’s Mountain View High School who, according to the U.S. Military Academy, became the 12th player in academy history to be drafted into professional baseball. “I’m on my way there. It helps to be able to throw on pinstripes.”

Ah yes, the Yankee pinstripes — the iconic navy blue banding of the team’s home uniforms, the same uniform that Robinett slipped on when he signed his professional contract with the club in June.

“When you throw on the pinstripes, everyone knows who you are, everyone knows you’re a Yankee,” Robinett said. “The pinstripes, that just stands out big-time. The famous pinstripes — it’s a great feeling.”

Suffice it to say, Robinett is easily making his peace with the Yankees, especially when they took a gamble by drafting him, even if the pick was in the 32nd round.

See, graduates of the U.S. Military Academy face a five-year service obligation; even athletes with a professional contract in place serve two years before requesting an early exit. So this summer, Robinett, on a yearlong leave, is pitching for the Yankees’ short-season single-A club, the Staten Island Yankees, in what amounts to a summer tryout, hoping to impress coaches enough to be invited back after fulfilling his Army obligation.

“It’s obviously a great feeling when they put that trust in you, that they want to make you an investment,” said Robinett, a two-time Intermountain Conference pitcher of the year and an all-state selection while at Mountain View. “Especially coming out of the service academy, there’s a lot more safer choices for them to make with their selections. The fact that they’re willing to take a chance on me because they think I have the stuff to help the organization, it’s a good feeling knowing they think that highly of you.”

It is no wonder why coaches and scouts raved about the 6-foot, 210-pound hurler. With Army this past season, Robinett tossed a no-hitter and later struck out 21 batters in a single game — a school record and the most strikeouts by an NCAA Division I pitcher since Stephen Strasburg in 2008. Robinett posted a modest 6-5 overall record, but he logged a 2.01 ERA with 92 strikeouts while limiting opponents to a .194 batting average, helping the Black Knights’ ace earn a spot on the Northeast All-Region first team.

Robinett, now 22, said he has been with Staten Island for about a week, although he has appeared in three games, striking out five batters over five innings and picking up a save. In the few weeks leading up to his call-up, he made three appearances for the Yankees’ rookie club, the Pulaski Yankees in Virginia, for whom Robinett had a save and seven strikeouts while allowing a mere two hits and zero runs in 5 1⁄3 innings.

Robinett, who underwent Tommy John surgery during his sophomore year of high school, has noticed the velocity on his fastball already increasing, to the mid-90s, which he credits to extra rest since exiting the academy. He said there have been no discussions about his future with the Yankees, such as if the franchise will purchase his Army contract to reduce his service time. But, Robinett said, coaches have expressed their satisfaction with his progression, giving him an extra boost of confidence as he continues his tryout summer season and perhaps earns a future spot in the Yankees’ organization.

Yet for as much as there may be on the line for him, Robinett will not break under pressure. Because, frankly, he does not perceive any pressure.

“I don’t see the point in it because it doesn’t help any,” he said. “I do understand it’s a bit of a tryout season for me. But all I can control is how I pitch, how hard I work. That’s all I can really control. What other people think of me or how they decide, that’s based entirely on how I perform. I’m just going to go out there and pitch the way I know and make adjustments where I need to.”

Before he was a high school baseball star in Bend, Robinett played in the Little League World Series in both 2004 and 2005 for his native Saudi Arabia. Today, he is inching closer and closer to his dream of becoming a major league player — a feat not accomplished by a West Point alumnus since 1929.

“Just having the confidence factor, I always hoped and I was pretty sure that I would get the opportunity to play professionally,” Robinett said. “But now that I’m here, it’s unlike anything I’ve really imagined. It’s just a great opportunity to be able to work your way through the Yankees’ farm system.”

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