Ooltewah baseball coach Brian Hitchcox signed a baseball scholarship in the summer after his senior season. A college coach just happened to be watching a player on the opposing team they had signed and liked what he saw in the former Rhea County player. That was on a summer Wednesday, and after a weekend visit, Hitchcox was signed in less than a week.
Three years later, he ended a Hall of Fame career at Samford University when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies after a junior season in which he became the first Bulldog to ever hit .400 in a season.
He played infield for seven years in the minor leagues, rising all the way to the cusp of the major leagues in the AAA International League, but unfortunately a couple of guys named Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley stood in the way of the ultimate prize.
All of this after not one single scholarship offer during his senior season.
“I was talking with Coach (Wes) Caldwell after our season got ended back in March and I told him if my senior season had gotten banged I probably would have never played baseball again,” Hitchcox said. “If I couldn’t have built momentum going into that summer like I did, there likely wouldn’t have been much reason to continue.”
When the 2020 prep baseball season was shut down in March dozens of uncommitted senior baseball players across the area were denied just that sort of momentum-seizing opportunity, but it didn’t stop one of Hitchcox’s own Owls from weathering the circumstances.
And because of that drive and determination, Jacob Robinson might well go on to top even his former coach’s fairy tale ride.
Robinson, a slugging third baseman for the Owls, signed scholarship papers recently to join the 2020-21 incoming class at Cleveland State Community College, and Hitchcox has a feeling the baseball world is just getting to know the Robinson name.
“It’s just a real credit to Jacob for all the work he put into getting ready for his senior year and then continuing it into the summer with the Hustle baseball program. He had a solid junior year, but man, he was poised for a breakout year. I have no doubt, his best baseball is still ahead of him,” Hitchcox said.
Robinson has quite a bit of pop in his bat, leading the Owls in homers and RBI as a junior, but anyone who had seen his transformation heading into this season knew he was going to have a big senior year. In the Owls’ only official game this year, Robinson hit a towering two-run homer at Soddy-Daisy and drove in four of Ooltewah’s runs in a 7-3 season-opening win.
“I have no doubt he was going to have a monster season. He was one of several seniors who had us ready to go. It was one of my favorite groups I’ve had since I got into coaching, and J-Rob was going to be a center piece of it. He can carry a team with his bat, and he had developed into an excellent closer on the mound for us. He has great hands and a natural ability in the infield with an above-average arm, but it was his bat that did the most talking,” Hitchcox said.
Robinson was one of those must-watch guys in batting practice. At a showcase event at ETSU last summer, he wowed with his power, hitting several towering shots out of the stadium. He hit monster shots at several minor league parks last summer and once play resumed this summer, so did the wall banging. He hit close to .300 his junior year leading the squad in extra base hits as well. On the mound, he was second in innings pitched, ERA and struck out almost a quarter of hitters he faced.
But all the momentum and attention he built up heading into his final year got lost in a pandemic.
“The summer before my junior year I really started seeing the benefits of the work I was putting in. I mean I was working out really hard and eating as much as I could. I went from 150 pounds as a freshman to about 180 going into my junior year and I could tell the difference,” Robinson said.
“I was riding the wave of what I did in the summer last year and just kept pushing it to get ready for the last go round with my guys. I was really disappointed when it got cancelled, but we all were, so I just tried to look at it as more time for me to work out and eat. I’m up another 10-15 pounds and I really used the time to work on my game, so it wasn’t all bad,” the 6-foot, 195-pounder added.
But without the stage of a baseball field to display his talents, Robinson ran into another bigger hurdle: getting in front of college coaches. And that’s where Ooltewah assistant coach Wes Caldwell stepped in. Fresh off of a Class A state title at Greenback in which five of his players signed scholarship papers, Caldwell begin to spread the word on Robinson.
“It was pretty difficult, especially not being able to play games. I know Caldwell worked his tail off trying to generate interest, and I can’t imagine all the strings he had to pull to get one single workout for someone who hadn’t been seen much, but he got it done. He believed in me, and he sold me to coaches, and I got that one single workout,” Robinson explained.
That workout was in front of Cleveland State coaches, and Robinson did the rest.
“It was nerve wrecking for sure. I hadn’t stepped foot on a field and taken live ground balls and BP, except for the stuff my dad did with me during workouts. But I had nothing to lose, and fortunately it went well,” Robinson added.
Robinson continued to show his stuff once the green light to play summer games was given and when the Cougar offer came, he was elated.
“I’m thrilled to be part of their program. That’s all I wanted was a chance to continue and get better someplace, and I have that now. I’m hoping to parlay two years at Cleveland State into a D-I offer, but if that doesn’t work out, there are plenty of options out there to continue. You just never know. Keep your head down, work hard, and let’s see where it goes,” Robinson laughed.
And that’s a story which sounds really familiar.
(Contact James Beach at email@example.com)