Danville's Chuck Robinson, 14, has big-league aspirations

Danville's Chuck Robinson, 14, has big-league aspirations

DANVILLE – Chuck Robinson is 14 years old, looks 17 and plays baseball like he's 20.

And by the time he enrolls at Danville High in August for his freshman year, he'll be carrying a reputation as one of the best up-and-coming baseball players in central Illinois.

"As far as potential, the sky's the limit," said Danville American Legion Post 210 coach Adam Decker. "He could be, potentially, the best player ever to come through Danville if he keeps progressing."

That's high praise, considering the talent that has made Danville a home. The list includes Jason Anderson, a former Illini and major league reliever now pitching in Class AA.

But it's easy to see why Robinson elicits such comments. He won't turn 15 until December, yet Robinson is the starting catcher for Post 210, a tradition-rich program that has been to multiple Legion state tournaments. He is 6-foot-1 with a sturdy build, has a strong, accurate arm and a solid hitting stroke.

"You'd never really notice that he's 14 years old when you see him out there," Post 210 designated hitter Blake Janesky said. "We have a lot of (opponents) that don't even believe us when we tell them he's 14."

Robinson's rapid rise has led him to Post 210's senior team. He played for the Junior squad last summer, then spent this spring playing for the Chicago White Sox Elite 14-and-under program. He could have stayed, but instead chose to compete for Post 210 this summer with the thinking that he'd benefit from the better competition.

After a sluggish start, Robinson has hit his stride at the plate, moving his average near .300. His defensive skills – the best part of his game – haven't wavered.

"He's got an unbelievable arm for a 14-year-old," Janesky said.

Decker said opponents don't even try to steal against him after watching him during warmups.

"His arm is the best arm I've seen (at catcher) through all of high school this spring. I didn't see anybody throw it better than him," Decker said. "I've seen a couple catchers comparable to him in Legion ball. In high school, he's going to come right in and be a superstar, I think."

The competition won't be better than he's seeing now. In Legion ball, Robinson is facing some players who have been in college for one season. That's a major adjustment from facing middle school kids, which Robinson did last fall with North Ridge Middle School in Danville.

"I'm just getting adjusted to better pitching," Robinson said. "It's a good learning experience for me."

Against Rantoul on Monday, Robinson went 1 for 3, including a 380-foot flyout to center field at Danville Stadium.

"The breaking balls at this level are better than what he's accustomed to seeing," Decker said. "He struggled a little bit with them earlier. I think he's really gotten his approach down the right way, and he looks real comfortable up there right now."

Robinson has a rich pedigree in baseball. His grandfather, Chuck Robinson Sr., and father, Chuck Robinson Jr., both played professionally. The youngest Robinson said baseball has always been his No. 1 sport, starting when he was 4 years old. His father and grandfather work out with him "about every day," he said.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Robinson has blended well with his older teammates and has reacted well to coaching and constructive criticism.

The goal, Robinson said, is to reach the major leagues. On his current trajectory, it doesn't seem farfetched.

"His worst enemy is getting complacent and being happy with how good he is," Decker said. "I talked to him at the beginning of the year: 'Every time you come to the field, you have to push yourself to be even better than the day before.' And I think he tries to do that for the most part.

"He's just a very special player. He's the biggest kid on our team and he's the youngest."

Dreaming big

Chuck Robinson's long-term goal is to play major league baseball. If he achieves it, he'll become the fourth person from Vermilion County to reach the big leagues:
Jason Anderson    2003    Came up with Yankees but couldn't stick in bullpen led by Mariano Rivera
Darrin Fletcher    1989    Former Illini slugged 124 homers in 14 seasons in majors
Tom Fletcher    1961    Darrin's father, ex-Illini pitched two innings for Detroit Tigers

Sections (3):Baseball, Prep Sports, Sports
Categories (3):Prep Sports, Baseball, Sports