Baseball POY: Robinson continues family tradition
DANVILLE — Baseball is a sport filled with numbers and statistics.
Two important ones belong to Chuckie Robinson III.
One is 30.
Another is 40.
Thirty was his national ranking last year among prep baseball players nationally — regardless of position — from the Class of 2013. That listing from Perfect Game USA helps confirm the thinking that he's a top prospect.
Forty is Robinson's academic class rank at Danville High, where he soon will start his senior year. That helps confirm he'll have educational opportunities regardless of how soon his professional career in baseball starts.
There's another number of significance attached to the three-year starting catcher.
It's No. 1.
Robinson headlines the 23rd News-Gazette All-Area baseball team as the Player of the Year.
He was the choice over Tuscola's two-way senior standout Dillon Hoel, a shortstop-pitcher.
As a 4-year-old, Chuckie Robinson III was hitting baseballs from a pitching machine. He comes from a family that has been around the game for generations and encouraged him to follow in its footsteps.
Chuckie Robinson Sr., now 70, spent a season in the Chicago White Sox organization in the early 1960s. He was a catcher.
Chuckie Robinson Jr. was signed by the Kansas City Royals organization and also spent time in the Chicago Cubs' minor league system. He, too, was a catcher.
They have helped Chuckie Robinson III develop.
"I listen," the 17-year-old said. "They know what they're talking about. If they see something wrong, they can tell me."
More than any valuable tips or pointers, the youngster — who stands 6-foot-2, 230 pounds — inherited a special interest from his father and grandfather.
"I have a love for the game," Chuckie Robinson III said.
Nothing could make Chuckie Robinson Sr. happier.
"It has been a joy in my life to be the one to help show him the way," he said. "Baseball is a great passion in my life. It has been a great marriage."
Expectations preceded the young Robinson to high school. Before he attended his first class as a ninth-grader, he was the starting catcher for Danville's Post 210 American Legion team. Most Legion players are ages 16 to 18, and a few already have finished their freshman year in college.
Undaunted, Chuckie Robinson III was playing regularly following his eighth-grade year.
"When I'm playing, I don't look at age," he said. "We're all playing a game. Age is nothing but a number."
He was up to the challenge because he had been conditioned for it for years.
"Since I was little, a lot of people were in my corner telling me I had God-given ability and, if I put my mind to it, I can make it," Robinson said.
In less than one year, Chuckie Robinson III may face choices that aspiring athletes dream about but seldom get to make.
After spending last summer on a traveling AAU team out of Chicago (Chi-Town Cream) and this summer on a team based in Georgia (Atlanta Blue Jays), Robinson is on the radar screen for major league teams.
"A couple of organizations have said he has the potential to play at that level," Chuckie Robinson Jr. said.
His son plans to commit to a college but then await the June 2013 professional draft before finalizing any plans.
"If I'm drafted high enough, I want to go to an organization," Robinson said. "Personally, I think I can jump in, but being in college wouldn't be bad. I can gain more experience."
Darrin Fletcher knows something about catching. The Oakwood High School graduate spent parts of 14 years, covering 1,245 games, in the major leagues.
He also knows the Robinson family.
"The Robinsons and Fletchers share a history," Darrin Fletcher said. "My dad (Tom) and his grandfather played together. I worked out with his dad, and my son (Casey) and Chuckie III played a little on Legion together.
"Our paths have always crossed. He has a good baseball family. Grandpa Chuckie knows a lot about the game."
Darrin Fletcher's impression of the third of the Robinson catchers is a favorable one.
"I thought his throwing skills are what stood out," Darrin Fletcher said. "He has a nice release, good footwork. He looked like he was well ahead of a lot of other kids at his age level.
"He already throws as well as a lot of college players right now around the area. I think he has a lot of potential."
Fletcher, however, would urge Robinson to start collegiately before taking his game to the play-for-pay level.
"Definitely behind the plate, it looks like his skills are honed in," Fletcher said, "but it takes time to mature as a hitter. It's tough for an 18-year-old kid to go right into pro ball and try to hit.
"He is a fine hitter for this level. To keep going up the ranks, you have to be a complete player. Catching will help him, but it takes time to develop offensively, especially against the better pitching."
Fletcher never had the option of signing a pro contract out of high school. In retrospect, he said it would have been the wrong decision had he elected to do so.
"There's a big pull to get out of school and start chasing your dream now," he said. "Playing pro ball is a big step forward. There is no way I was ready to face pro pitching at 17 years old.
"I needed those (collegiate) at-bats to start gaining confidence, and by the time I was a sophomore or junior, I was a draftable player. It's a big adjustment to go from Illinois (where Fletcher earned All-America accolades) to higher 'A' level ball.
"Once you make the next level, it's night-and-day difference from amateur pitching around here. I've seen younger players drafted, struggle offensively, then they come home. It's not how good you are at 18. It's how good you are at 25. I would encourage him to go to college."
Some people talk a good game. Chuckie Robinson III has learned to call a good game.
For a Danville High team that this spring advanced to the Elite Eight in Class 3A, most of the pitches were called by Robinson.
He went through an on-the-job training program. When he was a freshman, coach Gary Gritton signaled in the pitches.
"As he called them, I would think what I'd call in that situation," Robinson said. "It gave me time to learn."
Very seldom did pitchers shake him off.
"They trust me to call the game and be a captain on the field," Robinson said. "I like being in on every play and feeling I have control of the game."
When he's not playing, Robinson is in control of the remote. Don't expect him to be watching the major leaguers on television.
"I don't watch baseball unless I go to the park," he said. "If it's on TV, I'll scroll past it. I like to watch basketball and college football."
Though he doesn't have a favorite team — a diplomatic response that won't alienate any potential suitors — Robinson's favorite player is Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
While others speculate on what might be in his future, Robinson is not looking that far ahead.
"I'll play the game and let it take care of itself," he said. "I'll let everything fall into place. I just want to keep playing, practicing and working out. My grandpa has told me not to get complacent."
Chuckie Robinson Sr. — who still throws batting practice to his grandson "three or four times a week" when he's in town — likes what he sees in the future.
"As far as I'm concerned," the elder Robinson said, "he has the 'it' factor. If he keeps working, he has all the tools to play at the major league level.
"I've been his mental trainer since he started at 4 years old, and I remind him to keep working."
Players of the Year
Chuckie Robinson is the second Danville High standout — and sixth player from the Big 12 — to nab our top honor:
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2012 Chuckie Robinson Danville
2011 Jason Ziegler Mahomet-Seymour
2010 Brannon Kwiatkowski Mahomet-Seymour
2009 J.D. Learnard Salt Fork
2008 Clayton Meyer Tuscola
2007 Neil Wright Mahomet-Seymour
2006 Alex Acheson Champaign Central
2005 Alex Acheson Champaign Central
2004 Andy Pollock Tuscola
2003 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac
2002 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac
2001 Joey Frerichs Armstrong-Potomac
2000 Matt Minnes Urbana
1999 Mike Saunches Argenta-Oreana
1998 Travis Florey Sullivan
1997 Jason Anderson Danville
1996 Dave Hoffman Schlarman
1995 Quinn Moller Centennial
1994 Caleb Englehardt Tuscola
1993 Doug Little Monticello
1992 Jeff Martin Mahomet-Seymour
1991 Troy Pruitt Mahomet-Seymour
1990 Kerry Cheely Villa Grove
NAME SCHOOL POS. YR. COACH
Terry Deaville Rantoul P Sr. Jon Donovan
Jacob Williams Monticello P Sr. Chris Jones
T.J. Onstott Tuscola C Sr. Duff Hoel
Chuckie Robinson III Danville POY/C Jr. Gary Gritton
Kurtis Brown Champaign Central Inf. Jr. John Staab
Dillon Hoel Tuscola Inf. Sr. Duff Hoel
Blake Hoveln St. Joseph-Ogden Inf. Sr. Josh Haley
Joe Kenney Mahomet-Seymour Inf. Fr. Nic DiFilippo
Austin Fender Unity OF/P Sr. Dan Cunningham
Michael Plecki St. Thomas More OF So. Steve Rear
Cully Wilson Centennial OF Sr. Rich Hyde
Korie Vire G-RF/Chrisman DH Sr. Justin Quick
Zack Girton Oakwood Utl. Sr. Bob Sermak
NAME SCHOOL POS. YR. COACH
Stephen Dunn St. Joseph-Ogden P Sr. Josh Haley
Nick Stokowski Monticello P So. Chris Jones
Lucas Spezia Schlarman C Sr. Jason Woodworth
Chase Thurston Danville Inf. Jr. Gary Gritton
Tyler Francisco Mahomet-Seymour Inf. So. Nic DiFilippo
Tanner Harris Paxton-Buckley-Loda P Sr. Rick Johnson
Aaron Larson Unity Inf. Sr. Dan Cunningham
Cully Day Mahomet-Seymour OF So. Nic DiFilippo
Lucas Stefan Centennial OF Sr. Rich Hyde
Nolan Walsh Tuscola OF Jr. Duff Hoel
Cameron Lee Oakwood DH Sr. Bob Sermak
Stephen Krout Bismarck-Henning Utl. Sr. Michael Packard
NAME SCHOOL POS. YR.
Louis Acklin St. Joseph-Ogden P Jr.
Conner Builta Blue Ridge Inf. Sr.
Kyle Brazas Westville Inf. So.
Tyler Brennan Schlarman P Sr.
Justin Bruce East Central P Sr.
Cord Church Rantoul Inf. Jr.
Michael Cummins Argenta-Oreana Inf. Sr.
D.J. Davis Armstrong-Potomac P Sr.
Chris Deaville Rantoul C Jr.
John Essig East Central P Sr.
Taw Fredrickson Fisher Inf. Sr.
Connor Gross South Piatt P So.
Kent Hanson Sullivan C Sr.
Cole Hasselbring CPCI P Jr.
Storm Joop St. Thomas More Inf. So.
Cash Kiser Danville P Sr.
Ross Learnard Salt Fork OF So.
Keegan McHood Argenta-Oreana P Fr.
Jake Lyznicki Watseka Inf. Jr.
Philip Meyer Tuscola OF Sr.
Cole Morgan Tri-County Inf. Sr.
Alec Neal Schlarman Inf. Sr.
Alex Rabe CPCI Inf. Jr.
Tanner Russell Urbana Inf. So.
Nolan Sammer LeRoy DH Sr.
Drew Schrodt PBL OF So.
Jake Stewart St. Joseph-Ogden OF So.
Brandon Umbarger East Central OF Jr.
Dan Yoakum Tuscola Inf. Jr.
Keaton Zirkle Iroquois West C Jr.
ARCOLA — Pedro Leal, Sr.; Brett Lindenmeyer, Sr.
ARGENTA-OREANA — Taylor Ferguson, Sr.; Logan Sparks, Sr.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Brandon Sparks, Sr.; Kolton Vermillion, So.
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON — Tyler Schuring, Fr.; Evan Seegmiller, Jr.
BISMARCK-HENNING — Dustyn Ingram, So.; Austin Toler, Jr.
BLUE RIDGE — Will Duggins, So.
BUCKLEY CHRIST LUTHERAN — Sam Armstrong, Sr.; Jacob Lessman, Fr.; Casey Schmidt, Sr.
CERRO GORDO — Kaleb Krigbaum, Sr.; Bailey Runyen, Jr.
CENTENNIAL — Josh Manolakes, Sr.; Ryan McCuskey, Sr.; Zach Owens, Sr.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Tanner Goslin, Sr.
CLINTON — Josh Merrick, Jr.
CPCI — Sterling Young, Sr.
DANVILLE — Tanner McQuown, Sr.; Michael Vascura, So.
EAST CENTRAL — Tanner Brown, Sr.; Colin Daly, Sr.; Chance Lemmon, Fr.; Jared Wyant, Sr.
FISHER — Parker Perrero, Sr.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN — Ryan Berry, Jr.; Kyle Coburn, Jr.; Andy Cravens, Sr.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY — Axel Doran, So.; Gabe Kerber, Sr.
HOOPESTON AREA — Ross Lange, Sr.; Corey Rudin, Sr.
IROQUOIS WEST — Henry Gerritson, Jr.; Kyle Pool, Sr.; Kylen Rushbrook, Sr.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Austin Hamilton, Sr.; Dylan Hamilton, So.
LeROY — Drew Ruckman, Jr.; Nic Stevens, Jr.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Brad Herrmann, Jr.; Todd Metzger, Jr.
MILFORD/CISSNA PARK — Clayton Rieches, So.
MONTICELLO — Ryan Bundy, Fr.
OAKWOOD — Jake England, Jr.; Tyler Knight, Sr.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA — Jay Eshleman, So.; Dustin Mercer, So.; Nate Morris, Sr.; Jimmy Quinn, Sr.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Marcus Bachtold, Sr.; Devin Crews, So.; Darren Raby, So.
RANTOUL — Luke Pannbacker, Jr.
RIDGEVIEW — Dana Bose, Sr.
SALT FORK — Adam DePratt, Sr.; David Sacre, Sr.; Max Stutsman, So.; Cole Taylor, So.
SCHLARMAN — Austin Calhoun, Jr.; Brock Drews, Sr.; Daniel Wise, Sr.
SOUTH PIATT — Andy Webb, Jr.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Nick Geers, Sr.; Hunter Hart, So.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Cam Deedrich, So.; Mike Rubenacker, Sr.; Sean Sullivan, So.; Austin Tabeling, So.
SULLIVAN — Andy Brown, Jr.
TRI-COUNTY — Clint Foster, So.; Cole Lewis, Sr.; Wes Motley, Jr.; Justin Richardson, Sr.
TUSCOLA — Jacob Barr, Sr.; Josh Brookins, Sr.; Jimmy Knight, Sr.
UNITY — Kyle Negangard, Sr.; Seth Tolliver, Sr.
URBANA — Kyle Ross, Jr.
VILLA GROVE — Jake Reifsteck, So.
WATSEKA — Keanon LaVoie, Jr.; Brock Myers, Jr.
WESTVILLE — Jon Hoepner, Sr.; Jeff Thompson, So.
N-G Top 10 final rankings
TEAM (previous) W-L
1. Tuscola (NR) 24-14 — Four of top five hitters were seniors
2. Danville (4) 22-15 — Three of top five hitters were seniors
3. Schlarman (7) 25-13 — Four of top five hitters were seniors
4. St. Thomas More (NR) 18-17 — One of top five hitters was a senior
5. LeRoy (NR) 18-16 — Two of top five hitters were seniors
6. Mahomet-Seymour (6) 24-12 — None of top five hitters were seniors
7. Rantoul (1) 21-10 — Two of top five hitters were seniors
8. Centennial (9) 25-12 — Four of top five hitters were seniors
9. Monticello (NR) 17-13 — Three of top five hitters were seniors
10. St. Joseph-Ogden (3) 23-12 — Two of top five hitters were seniors