Ken Griffey Jr. stuns Myrtle Beach teen with visit to provide support

·5 min read

Athletically, Jordan Robinson feels like he belongs on a baseball diamond.

Baseball is his favorite sport, and the 13-year-old seventh-grader at Ten Oaks Middle School in Carolina Forest is good at it.

But socially, Robinson sometimes feels like an outcast in the sport, as he did this school year as the only Black player on the Carolina Forest High middle school B Team.

Robinson says he had some unpleasant experiences on that team that allegedly led to the premature cancellation of the season and led Robinson to tell relatives he was considering quitting baseball.

Horry County Schools said in a statement Wednesday that the Carolina Forest B Team baseball season was “cut short by a few days due to the sportsmanship dynamics on the team.”

Robinson’s family says his treatment by others led to the cancellation of the B Team’s season.

When baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr. learned of Robinson through a letter sent by his grandmother, he felt compelled to take action.

So Griffey flew to Myrtle Beach Wednesday to surprise Robinson at his school and encourage him to continue playing the sport he loves and not let outside influences derail his dreams.

It’s the first time the 52-year-old National Baseball Hall of Fame member has ever done such a thing, and he presented Robinson with an invitation to MLB’s Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp this summer in Florida featuring 250 largely minority youth players.

“This game is lonely enough, and to be put in a situation you should never be put in as a kid is horrible,” Griffey said. “They reached out and I said, ‘I’ll just fly there. I’ll go meet up with him and just let him know there are people out there that care, and want him to do well and want him to achieve his goals.’”

Robinson was simply in awe when one of his baseball heroes walked into a room near the principal’s office during what the A-student was led to believe was an honor roll presentation.

“I saw the big camera crews coming down and I thought, ‘What’s going on here? Am I on a TV show?’ ” Robinson said. “. . . It really means a lot.”

“Jordan’s mouth was [wide open] for the longest time,” said Robinson’s grandmother, Ellen Ross. “If there were flies or bees, they would have flown right in. I thought he was going to cry. It’s just heartwarming to think that somebody else does care, and a lot.”

Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.
Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.

Major League Baseball organizes to help minorities play baseball

Ross read about MLB’s involvement with a bishop in Virginia who helped organize minorities to play baseball, and sent the bishop a letter asking for help and support.

“I didn’t want him to get so discouraged that he wouldn’t play again, because he really loves it,” Ross said. “. . . We needed somebody to tell him it’s okay, they want you to stay in baseball.”

MLB was informed of the letter and organized the meeting after about a month of conversations with Robinson’s family and school officials.

Griffey, who hit 630 career home runs and won 10 Gold Gloves as a centerfielder, works for MLB as a special assistant to the commissioner, and is often involved in outreach to current players and youth programs through Tony Reagins, MLB’s Chief Baseball Development Officer overseeing youth efforts.

“He should be able to go out there, be a kid and do the things he wants to and loves to, and he loves baseball,” Griffey said. “[I wanted] to let him know [not to] let someone who’s not even on the field deter you from the game that you love.”

Reagins, in his seventh year in the commissioner’s office after spending 2007-11 as the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, has been in baseball 31 years and has never witnessed a player flying to a destination to meet with an individual kid.

“I’ve been in baseball a long time, and this is a first,” Reagins said. “. . . It speaks to the man. I haven’t seen this in my tenure, but he’s a special human being.”

Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.
Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.

Griffey said that everyone associated with MLB has “a goal, and they want everybody to play. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are, what color you are, they want you to go out there and have the opportunity to live your dream. I lived mine, I got to go out there and play baseball.”

The number of African-American players in professional baseball and in the game in general has diminished in recent years, and Reagins said MLB learns all too often of Black players across the country having similar experiences to the one Robinson had.

“There are challenges when a lot of times there is only one African-American kid on a roster, on a team,” Reagins said. “. . . When you are the only one, sometimes it becomes more of a challenge because you are the only one. So with the Hank Aaron Invitational, we put them in an environment with a lot of players who play the game, who love the game, who look like them, that are coached by people who look like them, and it makes them even more hungry for the game, even more passionate about the game.

“At the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to create, and not necessarily major league players, but major league citizens, and if they can be good people as well as good ballplayers, those are the true wins.”

Despite the experience on his B Team, Robinson, who pitches and plays first base and outfield, is looking forward to joining his summer teammates on an all-star traveling team, and to attending the two-week Hank Aaron camp.

It will be held July 20-Aug. 1 at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, where Griffey will be an instructor.

“Ever since this happened, it has made me want to work harder,” Robinson said. “That’s how I looked at it. I’ve been running every day, and getting better at my craft is my top priority right now.”

Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.
Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr., came to Ten Oaks Middle School on Wednesday to visit 13-year-old Jordan Robinson and encourage him to continue to play baseball. Griffey personally delivered an invite for Robinson to go to the Hank Aaron Invitational baseball camp in Florida this summer. May 25, 2022.