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Second chance at life: Drew Robinson

BY Jeff Passan

26th Jan 2023 Life

Second chance at life: Drew Robinson

A suicide attempt nearly ended the professional baseball player’s story. Now Drew Robinson is adding his most remarkable chapter yet

Content warning: the following article includes graphic descriptions of a suicide attempt and injuries incurred.

On April 16, 2020, Drew Robinson woke up, sat at his kitchen table, and finished writing a note that would explain to his family and friends why he had decided to end his life.

“I hope you guys realise that no one could’ve seen this coming to prevent it, because of how hard I tried to hide it,” he wrote. “It’s no one’s fault.”

He apologised to Daiana, Darryl, Renee, Britney, and Chad—the five people he loved the most. The ones who knew him best and still couldn’t see the sadness suffocating him. Even they believed the avatar he had created: a professional baseball player, handsome, charming, funny, with an easy laugh and a big smile. At 27, Drew was living his dream and yet wanting to die.

Second chance at life- Drew Robinson. Professional baseball player in San Francisco Giants uniform who survived an attempt to take his own life
Drew as a San Francisco Giant. Although it seemed like he had it all, he wanted to die. Photo credit: Getty Images

At about 8 pm, while sitting on his couch, he pressed his handgun against his right temple and pulled the trigger.

Moments later, Drew looked around, confused, and thought, What happened? Why am I still here? He saw blood everywhere. He held his head, trying to stem the bleeding. It didn’t help.

Drew collapsed onto his bed and closed his eyes. This is where I’m going to die, he thought.

That was supposed to be the end of Drew Robinson’s story. In fact, it was the beginning of another.

Feeling thankful for surviving

It’s six days before Christmas 2020. Drew is feeling thankful. Few people survive self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. Even rarer are those who emerge with clarity, purpose.

More than anything, Drew wants to tell his story to help others recognise the awfulness of suicide. He didn’t need his family to see what they saw, to go through what they went through, to spend every day wondering whether he’s really ok, whether he’s going to do it again. The pain of a suicide—or attempted suicide—is not limited to one person.

“How can I go through this and not try to help other people?” Drew says. “This was a huge, painful sign that I’m supposed to help people get through something that they don’t think is winnable.”

Drew Robinson professional baseball player lost his right eye after surviving a suicide attemptDrew lost his right eye in his suicide attempt but gained new purpose. Photo credit: Bridget Bennett

Growing up with baseball

Drew Robinson grew up on the outskirts of the US city of Las Vegas. He was Renee and Darryl Robinson’s youngest child. To his sister, Britney, and brother, Chad, he was a tagalong and an annoyance, the archetypal little brother who just wanted attention and love.

When Renee and Darryl divorced, the Robinson family splintered. The boys went to live with Darryl. Britney stayed with Renee. They found common ground in one place: the baseball field. Chad grew to 6ft4 tall and was considered one of the best prospects for Major League Baseball. Drew was undersized but skilled, smooth, natural. Almost every weekend, the Robinsons gathered at a baseball tournament, the parents putting aside any animus to support the boys.

Chad, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, set a near-impossible standard, and Drew considered anything short of it a failure. He craved perfection. In his teen years he hit a growth spurt and turned into the best player at his high school since his brother.

He was popular, especially with the girls. Drew went from one to the next until he met Daiana Anguelova. For Daiana, there was something magnetic about Drew, even if the two weren’t an obvious match. He could be loud, bombastic, always trying to look and act cool. But neither Daiana nor the world could see Drew how he saw himself—not as the joker but as the joke.

"Drew wondered: who would care if I’m gone? He couldn’t answer"

Drew would talk to himself as if he had an ever-present companion who shared in his misery. “When something would go wrong,” he says, “the voice in my head would answer, ‘Well, of course. That’s just how your life goes. You don’t get to enjoy things.’”

The major-league Texas Rangers chose Drew in the 2010 draft, after he’d finished high school. He received a $198,000 signing bonus. But he would have to prove himself on the Rangers’ minor league team before he could play for the Rangers themselves.

Still, at 18, Drew was a professional baseball player. This accelerated adulthood for him; he was not only paying bills, but also navigating team politics, managing disappointment, and figuring out how to live in a universe designed to weed out the weak.

Drew’s brother already lived this ­reality. The 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls for workouts. The long bus rides. The injuries. Had Drew and Chad spoken more, Drew would have known how pro baseball worked—how its physical elements paled in comparison to its mental toll. But talking wasn’t their thing. Drew would have to navigate the harsh learning curve on his own, including years of struggling to make it to the major-league Rangers.

Baseball exposed cracks in his facade of stability. His adoration for the game vacillated. He loved baseball one day and loathed it the next.

Major league and minor league

“I did it.” That was the text Drew sent his family after being told he had made the Rangers’ opening day roster in 2017. This was the dream.

But professional baseball can be cruel this way: Drew got two at-bats in the team’s third game. Seven days later, he was demoted to the Rangers’ minor-league team again.

He returned to the major league at the end of May and was sent back down the next day. He was called back up again on June 24, hit a home run for his first major league hit on the 25th, and was demoted on the 26th. The Rangers summoned him again on July 7, and he remained with the team for the rest of the season.

Although Drew acted as if he belonged at the highest level of pro baseball, he still felt otherwise. In the clubhouse, he questioned every answer he gave to reporters. On the field, he second-guessed minutiae—how he stood during the national anthem, how he looked running onto the field.

In December 2018, the Rangers traded Drew to the St. Louis Cardinals. He decided this would be a fresh start. He proposed to Daiana. She said yes and they set a wedding date.

Drew made the Cardinals’ roster the following spring, but a week into the season, he was sent down to the Cardinals’ minor-league team. Over the next month be bounced back and forth between the two teams. Then he hurt his left elbow and needed surgery. On August 28, 2019, the Cardinals released him.

The voice in this head grew louder, and Drew grew more depressed. He knew that he needed help, so he started to see a therapist and read self-­development books. He wanted to see himself the way he believed ­everyone else saw themselves.

The San Francisco Giants signed Drew to a minor league contract on January 6, 2020. He worried that he wasn’t good enough for the major leagues. He worried that he wasn’t good enough for Daiana, and that he never would be. Drew called off the wedding.

A question brewed in his mind: Who would care if I’m gone? When he couldn’t answer, he started to plan his death.

On March 12, 2020, Covid-19 shut down professional baseball. Drew returned to his empty house in Las Vegas. A week later, he went to a gun store to purchase a weapon.

The next day and choosing life

At 7 a.m. on April 17, Drew woke up in pain. He considered getting the gun and trying again. For hours, he slipped in and out of consciousness. 

The pain worsened. He tried to sit up but collapsed onto the floor. He was thirsty. He mustered the strength to stand. He lurched into the kitchen, filled a cup with water and swallowed a painkiller.

"He looked at his face in the mirror. It was unrecognisable"

Walking back to his room, he stopped in the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror. It was unrecognisable. The bullet had mangled his right eye.

He thought about baseball, whether anyone could play with one eye. He wondered if thinking about the future meant he was trying to survive.

Around 3:30 p.m., Drew was sitting in the same spot on the couch where he had shot himself. On his coffee table were the gun and his cell phone. He picked up the pistol with his left hand. He held the phone in his right hand. He could pull the trigger. Or he could call for help.

It came to him, he says, in an instant. I want to live. He called the emergency number. “I need an ambulance,” he said. “I tried to commit suicide last night, and I made it through. I have a huge hole in my head and I’m in a lot of pain.”

Police rushed to his house. At 3:57 p.m., Drew was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a  Las Vegas hospital.

Surgeries and return

When the bullet entered Drew’s head, it ruptured his right eyeball. It also fractured his frontal sinus, causing the leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, which poses significant infection risk. The bullet whistled past his left orbital floor and out above his left cheek­bone, milli­metres from ruining his other eye.

Doctors worked wonders putting Drew back together physically. The first surgery was to save his right eyelid. The second replaced the shattered bones around it. The procedure took about two hours and returned most of the symmetry to his face. The third was to fix the fracture in his sinus and stem the leakage of cerebrospinal fluid.

Drew’s right eye was beyond repair. On June 11, it was surgically removed and replaced with an implant, which left room in front for a prosthetic eye.

"Drew decided that telling his story would be the most impactful way to help others"

Hitting a baseball, even with two working eyes, can be extraordinarily difficult. Doing so with one is next to impossible. Only one man has lost an eye and played in the major leagues: Whammy Douglas, who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957.

Drew began playing baseball again that July, just 14 weeks after trying to take his own life. He progressed from batting off a tee indoors to practising with live pitches in a stadium. Then he hit a home run at Las Vegas Ballpark, a stadium where local professionals go for offseason hitting sessions.

A story shared

Drew Robinson professional baseball player returns to practising with teammates in indoor nets after losing an eye in a suicide attemptDrew back in baseball training. Photo credit: Bridget Bennett

Drew remained in touch with the San Francisco Giants after getting out of the hospital. In late summer, he asked whether he could speak to the organization’s ­players and staff in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. Drew figured that if he was going to help others, telling his story would be the most impactful way to do so. The Giants welcomed the idea.

Drew arrived at the team’s stadium on September 9. He was nervous. The players, coaches, and other staff gathered around him.

“First, I just want to say thank you for everything,” Drew said. “What I’ve been through the last couple of months has been the most powerful experience.”

Drew took a deep breath then spoke for seven minutes. He covered the importance of talking about mental health, the need for support from others, and his intention to give baseball another shot. He saw people crying. Drew left San Francisco that day feeling content: If this was the last thing he ever did with the Giants, he felt good about it.

One day in late October, Drew panicked when he saw that he had missed a text from Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “You awake?” it read.

Drew called back. When they spoke, Gabe told Drew that the organisation cared about him. They wanted people like him around. And they believed he could still play major league baseball.

The Giants offered Drew a contract with an invitation to minor league spring training. There wouldn’t be any guarantee that he would play with the Giants again. But he would get the chance to work his way there.

Drew couldn’t thank Gabe enough. He was going to play baseball again.

A Giant again

Drew Robinson baseball player back in practice after surviving a suicide attemptDrew began playing baseball again just months after trying to take his own life. Photo credit: Bridget Bennett

On May 6, 2021, Drew played with one of the Giants’ minor-league teams against a team in Las Vegas. Competing in the city where he was born and raised—and where he almost died—Drew struggled. He failed to get a hit. But the crowd still acknowledged him with vociferous cheers, marvelling at his remarkable comeback.

Soon after, in his fourth game back, and still in Las Vegas, Drew’s bat made contact. The ball soared high and far, and landed over the back wall. He had hit a home run, the first of three he would hit in 2021.

But halfway through the season, Drew decided to retire—from playing, not from the game itself. He ultimately took a job with the Giants as a mental-health advocate. He wrote on Instagram: “For the Giants to believe I can help other players address their emotional well-being is truly humbling.” Drew ended his post with gratitude, saying to his friends, family, teammates, and, “most importantly, to Daiana, my everything. I thank you.”

Stronger than he thought

In the drawer of Drew’s nightstand lies a small box. Inside is the bullet that burrowed through his head and changed his life. Sometimes he’ll remove it, roll it between his index finger and thumb, and remind himself where he was then and where he is now.

“I look at this thing and think, I’m stronger than you,” he says. “I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

ESPN (February 2, 2021), Copyright © 2021 by ESPN

If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Talk to the Samaritans 24 hours a day by calling 116 123 or by texting SHOUT to 85258.

Resources are available from the Samaritans and Mind. 

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