Like any sports team featuring a bevy of accomplished athletes, the Team USA baseball group, playing to qualify for a bid to this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, features some internal competition.
Although what they’re competing over might be a little different.
“Edwin Jackson’s older than me. Brandon Dickson’s a few months older than me, if you want to put that in there,” David Robertson, 36, told The Post on Saturday, Dickson within earshot. “We’re counting months down here trying to not be the oldest guy.”
Robertson, the two-time former Yankee pitcher, headlines a group of veteran free agents and young employed players (none on 40-man rosters) that will try to get this club into the first Olympic baseball competition since 2008, with their first game Monday against Team Nicaragua at Clover Park, the Mets’ spring-training home, in Port St. Lucie. In addition to the 37-year-old pitcher Jackson and Dickson, who spent the prior eight seasons pitching for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan after starting his career with the Cardinals, familiar names include former Met and Yankee Todd Frazier, All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp, author of two no-hitters Homer Bailey and lefty reliever Marc “Scrabble’’ Rzepczynski. Longtime Angels manager Mike Scioscia runs the team.
The big names notwithstanding, their task won’t be easy. Only two teams from a group of 12, including powerhouses like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Cuba, will ultimately make the cut via a byzantine process in which one club will earn its invitation this week and a second next month. Yet Robertson, who stands out among this group because injury rather than underperformance landed him here, freely admits that this gig carries two purposes for him — and his mindset clearly predominates the group.
“I’m obviously excited about the opportunity of winning a gold [medal]. It would be cool,” Robertson said. “Going to Japan, going to the Olympic Village, getting to play against different countries. I’ve never been to Japan. I think it would be a cool trip. It would definitely be special. Any time you’ve got the ‘USA’ across your chest, it’s special.
“But at the same time, obviously I would love to get back into MLB, but I need the right fit and the right contract for that to happen. I’m just going to kind of enjoy this whole experience and see whatever happens, happens.”
In his last full major league season, 2018 with the Yankees, Robertson put up a representative season for his career, tallying a 3.23 ERA in 69 appearances, striking out 91 and walking 26 in 69 ²/₃ innings. Then he signed a two-year, $23-million contract with the Phillies, only to go down after a mere seven games in 2019 with an ailing right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery that August.
“It was a little more involved than just the TJ. I had some flexor tendon issues, too,” Robertson said. “My recovery was not the yearlong [recuperation]. It was more of a 16- to-18-month recovery. I tried to rush it because I wanted to pitch and just couldn’t get ready. It took me every bit of 18 months to get healthy and feel normal. Once I did, everything’s coming right back.”
The right-hander threw during a pair of showcases in February, one near his Alabama home and the other in Florida, for major league talent evaluators.
“We had some offers come in and out,” he said. “Nothing really got worked out.”
Because he pitched for the championship Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Robertson held a relationship with USA Baseball’s CEO, Paul Seiler, whom he contacted when he didn’t find common ground with any major league teams. He has spent the past 2 ½ weeks training with this group in Florida, and game time is at hand.
“I have been told to be ready at any point: ‘The phone might ring, and it might be you,’ ” Robertson said. “It’s all hands on deck”
And all the veterans on one heck of a platform.
“I think I can still do it,” Robertson said, and what better showcase for a free agent to prove that than international play?