Quick—name the only Tacoma Rainier with World Series experience. Give up? That would be starting pitcher Nate Robertson who started (and lost) one game for Detroit in 2006 against St. Louis in a series that the Cardinals ultimately won four games to one. Robertson, who attended Wichita State University from 1997 to 1999, signed as a minor league free agent with Seattle in January of 2011 after having worn the uniforms of three major league teams (Marlins, Tigers, Phillies) during the 2010 season. As of Aug. 7 the lefty has a record of 3-5 in 12 starts, with an ERA of 7.20. Tacoma Weekly baseball writer Karen Westeen recently talked to Robertson about his extensive career as well as his after-baseball plans.
TW: You’re a native of Kansas. Do you still live there?
NR: Yes, my wife and I and our three-year old son live in a suburb of Wichita.
TW: You attended college at Wichita State, from 1997 to 1999. That’s one of those powerhouse baseball colleges. Did you go to the College World Series with WSU?
NR: We went in my freshman year, but I had broken my foot and didn’t get to play. The team went two-and-out, but it was still a thrill to be there.
TW: You were drafted by the Marlins in 1999. Did you finish college before you started your professional career?
NR: No, I signed before finishing college, but I promised my dad I would finish. I’m really close. I only have nine credit hours to finish.
TW: What was your major?
NR: Sports administration with a minor in marketing.
TW: During your 13-year career you’ve mostly been a starter, but you’ve made a few appearances out of the bullpen. Whose decision was that?
NR: Both times it was the team’s decision. My first time in the Majors was in 2002. I came up to the Marlins to replace starters. When they came back I went to the pen. With Detroit in 2009 they felt there was someone else who would give them a better chance. It’s a major adjustment (to switch between starting and being a reliever). Because the preparation is a daily grind, you need to know your role, but sometimes you don’t know when you’re going in. The main thing is getting the game deeper in toward the ninth.
TW: Talk about that first Major League start with the Marlins in 2002.
NR: The Double A season had ended, and my fiancée and I were driving home from Portland, ME. In the middle of the night I got a call from our farm director telling me I’m going to the Big Leagues. I hadn’t pitched for several days. We stopped in Kentucky and I caught a plane to New York, met the team and flew to Pittsburgh where I started two days later. I was on a pitch count, and I pitched pretty well for the conditions but I lost the game.
TW: You’ve been involved in a couple of pretty bizarre pitching situations. The first one was with Detroit in 2005 when you were ejected after one pitch.
NR: We were in Tampa and our leadoff hitter got hit by the first pitch but no warning was issued then by the umpire. In the bottom of the inning I accidently let one go. The ump warned both benches, then he tossed me. It was a record for shortest ejection. Unfortunately at the time Detroit had a four-run lead.
TW: Then this year on July 6 you gave up seven runs in the bottom of the first inning against Colorado Springs and wound up getting the win in an 18-13 game.
NR: The first inning wasn’t so frustrating, and we got seven runs back in the second. I didn’t have my strikeout pitch going but I kept us in the game. I was fairly pleased with the way I was able to control the next four innings and not give up any home runs.
TW: What was it like playing with Detroit and helping take the team to the World Series in 2006?
NR: I had never been with a team that kept it so loose. It was a total team effort from a great unit that did all the little things it took to prove we could get there. The hitters picked up the pitchers, and vice versa. It was Jim Leyland’s first year managing the team and after eight losing seasons there were lots of expectations. (Everyone said) you have to win it now.
TW: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
NR: Definitely pitching in the World Series. I had a chance in that post season run to pitch game one at Yankee Stadium in the division championship and game one in Oakland for the league championship, plus game three in the World Series and each one was against the other team’s ace—Chien-Ming Wang, Barry Zito and Chris Carpenter. Other than one inning where things got away from me I held my own. (Note: Robertson won vs. Oakland, and lost the other two games.)
TW: You’re 33 now. How long would you like play?
NR: As long as the good Lord allows me to. If my arm still works and I can get people out I’ll continue to pitch for awhile. I’ll know when the time comes. I’m 33 now and I’m two and a half years short of ten years of time in the big leagues—a lot is out of my hands but I hope to be part of a Big League club sooner than later.
TW: Once your playing career is over what do you think you’d like to do?
NR: I am the second majority owner of an independent league team, the Wichita Wingnuts. They play in the American Association. My older brother is the GM, and my younger brother is the pitching coach. It’s a lot of fun, and gives me the chance to use my experience (along with my college major). I can stay in baseball just doing that.