Graduating high school and advancing to the next stage in life can be a scary thing, especially for an athlete.
When Jaron Robinson graduated from Mendota in 2015, he knew he was going to play baseball at Murray State University.
But he didn’t know what kind of journey he was facing.
“Leading up to it, I didn’t realize what it was going to be and what it all entailed. I was excited for it,” Robinson said. “Getting an opportunity to play (NCAA) Division I baseball isn’t something a lot of people get to do. I was thankful Murray State gave me the opportunity that they did.
“I don’t regret it all and would do it again if I could. It means so much that I got to go there and they helped me develop my skills and show me what I could be. It turned out well and I got to help them out by playing all four years. I had friends that didn’t get to play all of the time. It made it more meaningful to me that I was living my dream.”
The Racers may not have realized what kind of player they were getting for the ride.
Robinson, who wrapped up his college playing career this spring but graduates in December with a finance degree, is the ninth Murray State player to play in 200 games, the 14th to have 200 hits and was on the Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer Team as a freshman.
The four-year starting shortstop gave it his all during his senior year as he was pushing to be a selection in the MLB Draft.
He started 53 of the Racers’ 54 games and had a batting average of .273 with 29 runs, eight doubles, five home runs, 28 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
“Going into my senior year, I knew there was a chance that it would be my last ride,” Robinson said. “I had high hopes for the draft. I still have some hope for some independent league teams as I’ve had some tryouts and have more coming. Going into the year, I was just focused on winning games.
“When I left, I wanted to leave the program in the right direction. We had a new coaching staff and they brought the team together and really showed us what it meant to be a Racer because there is a lot of tradition with 100 years of baseball.”
Robinson didn’t take the Racers’ journey alone.
On the first day, he met catcher Joe McMahon who ended up being his roommate for the next four years.
“We were able to confide in each other for a lot of stuff,” said McMahon, who is from Holbrook, N.Y. “We literally did everything together. We had to find rides together because we didn’t have cars. We were literally together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We helped out each other a lot. It was great and we had the best of times together.
“I came in with him. He was one of the first people I met and he was the last person I said goodbye to. There is no exaggeration, we had a bromance. We were one of the tighter duos on the team.”
Robinson and McMahon built a friendship that was carried on at home and on the field.
In McMahon’s eyes, Robinson was an everyday web gem type of shortstop.
“He is one of the best shortstops I’ve ever seen,” McMahon said. “His range was unbelievable. It’s hard to come into Division I baseball and start as a freshman. He handled it so well. How he progressed as a player was very impressive.
“I know his average might not show it, but that kid has hit so many hard hit balls that the defender made a spectacular play. I have never seen anyone with worse luck at the plate. He got robbed all of the time. He heard it from me in the dugout, ‘You might as well just strikeout, this is just heartbreaking.’
“He was hard on himself. It showed that he cared. He was a team captain this year. He emerged as a leader and he did the right thing. People followed him and he led by example. He fit the role of a Division I shortstop perfectly.”
As a leader, Robinson helped fellow Racers on the field with his play and verbally as he gave them advice.
Ryan Perkins, a soon-to-be senior from Saint Charles, Mo., will never forget playing with Robinson.
“We have had a lot of interaction on the field,” Perkins said. “I played a lot of games with him. He’s a very competitive guy and he always wants to win. I feel like that’s the kind of guy you want to have on your team because having that attitude of being a competitive player, wanting to win and trying to be better than the next guy rubs off on guys.
“He came in as a freshman and he wasn’t that big, but he worked hard and got a spot on the roster. He’s a guy other guys looked up to. When I came in I knew he was one of the guys I could follow.”
Next year is going to be quite different for Perkins and the Racers since their mainstay at shortstop will be replaced with a new face.
“It will absolutely be weird not having him at shortstop,” Perkins said. “It has been four years since someone else has been there. It’s going to be a hard place to fill because he is great defensively and a great guy to have on the field.”
While the Racers are trying to find someone to fill Robinson’s shoes, Robinson is hoping he still has some baseball left to play.
If he doesn’t, he has a backup plan.
“I’m going to keep trying out for some teams and see how that goes,” Robinson said. “I graduate in December. I’ll see what happens. If I’m playing Independent ball, I’ll give that a run and see what I can do and maybe get some looks out of there.
“If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll look into my degree and go from there.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.