For most athletes, it’s a simple process of transitioning from high school into a four-year university to compete at the collegiate level. Typically, most settle at nearby universities to stay close to family and friends in an environment where they are comfortable, without having any worries. But for Alex Robles, the journey to reach his goals of playing baseball in college didn’t come without obstacles.
Robles, a native of Tucson, Ariz., traveled 1,600 miles to Clarksville to become a Governor. But before his commitment was made to join the reigning Ohio Valley Conference championship program, Robles had to take care of business matters. He first had to officially become a citizen of the United States. Robles had been living just north of the Mexico border, but had not become a citizen until last January.
“He’s a kid that has had to work for everything he’s got and hasn’t had it real easy,” APSU head coach Gary McClure said. “He didn’t even know if he was going to be able to go to college and play baseball, at least at a four year school. He’s a long way from home and he doesn’t get to see his mom and dad, brothers and sisters, and friends.”
Robles admitted that he is home sick at times, but has learned to overcome the challenge of being far away from the desert and mountains of his hometown.
At four years old, Robles had a bat and baseball in his hand. Baseball was an every day tradition for Robles, and wasn’t a normal kid who played with toys. His parents tried to give him Hot Wheels and other things, but the baseball diamond was his playground. As he got older, others sports such as football and basketball became his hobbies. However, as he continued to improve as a baseball player until he was often the best on his respected team, he focused solely on baseball and didn’t allow himself to take risks of getting injured in other sports.
When the spring season comes, there is a buzz in the state of Arizona about baseball. “The Grand Canyon State” is one of two locations where Major League Baseball teams come to take part in Spring Training before regular season play begins. So where was Robles when he wasn’t playing catch with his friends? He would make the trip up to Scottsdale, Ariz., where the local club, the Arizona Diamondbacks would play. Robles, who wore a Diamondbacks hat as he spoke, recalled being at the ballpark to meet the likes of Eric Byrnes and other big league players. Byrnes, who played four seasons in Arizona, soon remembered Robles on a first-name basis, especially as he gained state recognition in high school baseball.
As a junior at Tucson Magnet High School, Robles batted .393 with 21 RBI, while going 7-1 with a 2.68 ERA on the mound. He continued to impress as a senior, raising his batting average to an astounding .505, and went 9-2 with a 1.36 ERA. Robles led his team into the state tournament where they met the eventual state champion, Scottsdale Desert Mountain. Robles pitched a gem, and was four outs away to his tenth win, but an error by the Tucson shortstop cost them the lead and the game. Robles appeared in relief the following game against Chaparrel, but was handed his second loss, and more importantly, it was his final game in a high school uniform.
Just as anyone would feel after a gut-wrenching loss, Robles said it took a while for him to get over it, but then focused his attention to what would lie ahead. For his illustrious career, Robles was named ‘Player of the Year’ by the Arizona Daily Star, while also being selected to the Louisville Slugger All-America second team.
Robles had walk-on offers to play college baseball at Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon, but says he liked what Austin Peay had to offer and signed on in the spring. He would be one of 13 freshmen to join the roster, and has made the biggest impact on the team by being a utility player, just as in high school. Robles says he has grown very comfortable being able to shift from pitching to the infield, and it has showed.
At the plate, Robles leads all players with a .417 average and four RBI. On Feb. 18 against Southern Illinois, Robles hit his first home run of the season, and has had seven multi-hit games thus far. In the pitching department, where Robles has been a mainstay in the weekend rotation, he is 1-1 with a 4.87 ERA and seven strikeouts. But what really separates him from the rest of the team is his personality. If you go to the ballpark and see someone that is energetic and often nodding his head to the music, it’s probably Robles. While other young players had trouble finding their footing early in the season, Robles has remained comfortable throughout the entire process.
“He likes to joke around, but be serious when he needs to,” McClure said. “The thing I like about him a lot, and I think it has a lot to do with his personality, is he’s relaxed and always pretty loose. Nothing seems to bother him a whole lot. From the get go this season he’s probably been the most relaxed freshman we’ve had.”
But Robles doesn’t do anything unique to get himself prepared. He’s just a normal teenager, listening to the likes of rappers J. Cole and Kanye West to pump him up, and always eats Subway before games. Once warm ups and the National Anthem conclude, Robles bows his head for a few moments and talks to his late grandfather in prayer.
The kid who has worked harder than anyone to get to where he is points to the sky, and proceeds to play the game he loves while his positive energy rubs off on others.
Photo: Alex Robles (Brittney Sparn/APSU Sports Information)