Much like facing 90 mph fastballs, Anchorage native Levi Robinson has become accustomed to the gasps. "They say, 'Wow, you have baseball in Alaska?' " said Robinson, a shortstop with the Class A Frederick Keys. "People from the Northwest have a little better idea about it because they're a little closer . . . but when you get to the East Coast, man, they don't even know where Alaska is."
Now in his third season with the Orioles organization, the 24-year-old is striving to become better known for his play than for where he was born. The former 34th-round draft pick out of Texas Christian entered play Friday hitting .232 after finishing last season with 51 runs scored, the second most on lower Class A Delmarva.
Not bad for a player who grew up devoting 11 months of the year to hockey, sometimes attending two practices a day. Still, he always looked forward to the summer.
"It was always so nice to be out there, and I knew I'd have more fun if I went and tried to pursue baseball," said Robinson, who had plenty of time to hone his skills despite the brief Alaskan summers. "On our longest day, the sun came up at around 4:30 in the morning and went down around 1:30 at night, but it never really got pitch black -- it was like dusk."
Though Alaska doesn't have any minor league teams, Robinson said that baseball there isn't such an anomaly. Six high schools in Anchorage field teams, as do a handful of others from around the state.
One of Robinson's former amateur teammates, Chad Bentz, is now a rookie pitcher with the Expos, and Boston right-hander Curt Schilling is an Anchorage native but attended high school in Arizona.
Robinson admits he probably would have had an easier road to a career in hockey. When many of his friends were leaving to play Juniors, he chose to stay behind and pursue baseball in the Alaska League, a summer league similar to the Cape Cod League.
Now, his goal is to improve at the plate. Hitting, he says, is a lot more difficult than shooting a puck. "It's a little more intricate hitting a ball that's moving," Robinson said.