By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash informed Daniel Robertson he’d cracked the Opening Day roster Saturday morning.
It was an emotional moment for the 23-year-old, who instantly called his mom to tell her his lifelong dream of being a Major League Baseball player had finally come true.
“I can’t even remember exactly what he said,” Robertson’s mom Julie said. “I know I told him how much I love him. I screamed a little bit, and I cried a little bit.”
After mother and son shared a moment of pride, he hung up the phone and instantly went to his voicemail.
There was no new message there, but he wasn’t looking for one.
Robertson clicked a five-year-old message from his late father, Don, who passed away in September of 2013 from non-smoking lung cancer.
“I always saved a voice message he left me when I was in low-A,” Robertson said Saturday morning. “I listened to that and it says how proud he was of me at the time, but I kind of just was taking it as if I made the phone call to him right now.”
The elder Robertson was diagnosed in 2010, and at the time, he told Julie all he wanted to do was live long enough to see Daniel drafted. The Oakland Athletics selected Daniel in the first round of the 2012 draft, and shortly after that is when father left the voicemail for son.
“I couldn’t hold back my tears when I listened to that,” Robertson said. “I miss him and I know he’s looking down on me, proud as could be. I’m just trying to make my family proud and keep doing what I love.”
Daniel was in Beloit, Wisconsin, playing for the Athletics’ single-A affiliate in the Midwestern League in 2013, where he would Facetime his dad everyday. Around then, he noticed a visible decline in his father’s health. Daniel told his mother that he wanted to be there if his dad took a turn for the worse.
That time came when Daniel was practicing on a day off, prior to the league’s semifinals.
A phone call took place around 2 p.m. between Julie and Daniel’s agent to get the infielder back home. By 11 p.m., son was by father’s bedside in California for the final few days of his life.
“My husband kept saying ‘don’t you dare call him,’” Julie said. “When (Daniel) walked in the door, my husband got that pissed off look on his face. Daniel was like ‘Dad, I wasn’t not going to come,’ and then my husband smiled.”
Less than three years later, after being traded in 2015, Daniel appeared on the Rays’ Opening Day roster on Sunday.
He was essentially the final decision to be made on the 25-man roster, beating out Nick Franklin, mostly thanks to his fielding ability.
“We’re happy for Daniel Robertson,” Cash said. “Nick hit the ball really well this spring, but we needed to make sure we were covered at shortstop, and Robbie did that. The decisions we made were to help this team win. Win now, and win out of the gate.”
Robertson was not on the lineup in the Rays’ season-opening win against the Yankees Sunday, but Cash says he’ll be getting into games soon.
But when he does finally get into a game, he’ll have a voicemail waiting on his phone to remind him how proud his father is.