Robbie Tolan Returning To His Baseball Career

Although he still has a bullet in his liver, the young Bellaire resident shot in December 2008 by a Bellaire police officer has a chance to return to his professional baseball career after recently signing a contract with a team in Michigan.

Robbie Tolan will compete to earn an outfielder position in early May during spring training for the Oakland County Cruisers of Waterford, Michigan. The team is part of the Frontier League, an 18-year-old independent professional ball club that includes 12 teams in seven states.

“We look forward to him hopefully earning a spot on the roster,” said Rob Hilliard, president and director of team personnel for the Oakland County Cruisers.

Tolan and his family did not return messages seeking comment, but InstantNewsBellaire will update this story if they do.

Hilliard said Tolan has medical clearance to play ball again. The team became aware of him because its new vice president, Dmitri Young, played on the Cincinnati Reds, the same team that Tolan’s father, longtime Major League Baseball player Bobby Tolan, played for in the late 60s and early 70s.

Team management knows about the incident on Dec. 31, 2008 when Bellaire Police Sergeant Jeffery Cotton shot Tolan in his family’s front yard after mistakenly thinking the 23-year-old man had been driving in a stolen vehicle. Cotton now faces felony charges of aggravated assault by a public servant, and his trial is scheduled for May 3.

“What happened there has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on our decision to offer him a contract,” Hilliard said. “This is based on what his performance was while he was in affiliated ball. We think it’s great he’s been able to overcome his personal situation, but he’s earned this opportunity based on his past performance.”

The Washington Nationals signed Tolan as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, and he spent a year playing in minor-league clubs affiliated with the Nationals. In 2008, Tolan played for the Bay Area Toros, a minor league team in Texas City.

Spring training for the Oakland County Cruisers is scheduled to begin May 5, which may actually conflict with Cotton’s criminal trial on May 3. Tolan may be required to testify at the trial, which may last one week or longer, but it’s possible the court will work with him if his baseball schedule conflicts with the trial.

“Work is not a valid excuse, although judges really try to accommodate witnesses when they can,” said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Donna Hawkins. “Most of the judges are pretty reasonable and will try to work with witnesses.”

The Oakland County Cruisers invited 38 players to spring training to compete for 24 spots on the team. Whomever wins a spot will begin playing May 21, and will participate in 96 games in the regular season through Sept. 5. If he wins a spot, this could be Tolan’s chance to get back on track with his baseball career. Last year, the Cruisers sold three players’ contracts to major-league teams, Hilliard said.

“This is really a league that’s invested in players. We think we have an upside potential, and an opportunity to get into affiliated ball, or back into affiliated ball,” Hilliard said. “The odds are long, certainly, but there is a path for those who persist and have the skill.”