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Scout found no hitter, but a pitching gem

Let's dispense with the stereotypes. Jim Robinson, who scouts the state of Texas for the Red Sox and is the man credited with signing No-Hit Clay Buchholz, hails from the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and drives a Volvo, the standard-issue vehicle of the Sox. He does not wear a cowboy hat, and while he owns a pair of boots, he says, "I wear them very rarely."

A former college catcher at Mississippi State, Robinson was signed by the Cubs but his playing career ended after he had two operations on his throwing shoulder for a torn labrum. He would have loved to coach, but with his shoulder as bad as it was, Robinson worried that he wouldn't even be able to throw batting practice.

So he went back to college, finishing a degree in communications, when a Baltimore Orioles scout named Earl Winn asked him if he might like to try his hand at finding players.

"Basically called me out of the blue," Robinson said.

That was in 1996. Three years later, Robinson was hired by Sox scouting director Wayne Britton and assigned to share Texas, a position he has held through a couple of changes in bosses, and is now working for Jason McLeod. Now he has most of the state, "except for a little corner near El Paso."

Robinson, 38, has three boys, ranging in age from 4 to 9; his wife, Shauna, works full-time in their adopted hometown of Fort Worth, and like many couples of a certain age, he frets about the hours he spends away from home. With his territory as big as it is, Robinson estimates he puts 35,000-37,000 miles a year on the Volvo.

His idea of a good day scouting was the time McLeod flew down to meet him in Houston, they drove three hours north to see Buchholz pitch in a junior college game for Angelina College in Lufkin at noon, then turned around and made the three-hour drive back to see another top prospect, Stephen Marek (now in the Angels system), pitch that night in Houston.

The hours, the miles, the separations, they are all forgotten on nights like last Saturday, when Robinson switched on the TV in his living room and saw Buchholz making history in Fenway Park. Shauna was in the other room. He told her what was happening around the seventh inning, "but I told her to stay there, I didn't want her to mess up the karma."

His cellphone was buzzing, with calls and text messages from other scouts, his brother, his buddies, but Robinson ignored them, for the same reason he asked Shauna to stay put.

"I was watching with one of my boys," he said. "Everybody was on the edge of their seats. We were having a blast."

Robinson has signed other big leaguers for the Sox. Casey Fossum, the lefty skinnier than a swizzle stick, who was with Tampa Bay; Lew Ford, who was regarded as a nonprospect with the Sox but blossomed for a time with the Twins; David Murphy, the former No. 1 draft pick who went to Texas in the Eric Gagné deal at the trading deadline and had five hits in the Rangers' 30-run game against the Orioles.

But to watch one of your guys throw a no-hitter?

"Crazy how things come full circle," Robinson said. "I remembered scouting him a little bit in high school, when he was a lefthanded-hitting shortstop. He was over 6 feet tall, but probably weighed only 145, 150 pounds."

That was in the East Texas town of Lumberton, where Buchholz's father, Skip, made his living like so many others in the "golden triangle" area of Beaumont/Orange/Port Arthur, working for an oil company.

The next time Robinson saw Buchholz pitch, he was playing for Angelina. This was in the spring of 2005, the game was at San Jacinto College in Houston, and this time, he said, he was there to see Buchholz pitch. "I'd heard the buzz," he said.

It was hard to miss. In an intrasquad game, Buchholz had faced six batters. All whiffed. There wasn't a foul ball among them.

He was plenty good the night Robinson saw him, too, with a fastball that touched 95 miles per hour, and with what Robinson called a "great, great feel for his curveball and slider."

The changeup he threw with such devastating effect against the Orioles Saturday night? It was in the repertoire, Robinson said, but had not yet gotten the polish it would receive when Buchholz was in short-season Lowell.

"If you didn't like him," Robinson said, "you weren't watching the game."

But by then, Robinson said, he knew the other side of Buchholz's story, the part that had caused Buchholz to leave McNeese State, where he'd played little as a freshman, and wind up in Angelina. The part about the 29 laptop computers he and another kid from Lumberton had stolen, then sold to other students at McNeese. You're not doing your job as a scout if you don't know all about that stuff, either.

Robinson did his due diligence. He talked to the kid, looked him in the eye, listened to his story. He talked to Jeff Livin, the coach at Angelina.

"I remember his exact quote," Robinson said of his conversation with Livin. "He said, 'I really think that rattled his cage. He ain't going to mess up anymore.' "

This is what Robinson decided.

"I thought he was ready for redemption," he said. "He was a young kid who made a very bad decision, saw a chance to make some easy money. But he wanted to show he was a good kid."

That's the same decision Sox general manager Theo Epstein and scouting director McLeod made after grilling him during a predraft visit to Fenway.

"Maybe if he wasn't as good as he was, we wouldn't have taken the risk," Robinson said. "But we thought he was worth the risk."

The Sox used their first pick in the 2005 draft to take Craig Hansen, the closer from St. John's. They picked next at 42d. Robinson fretted that Buchholz wouldn't get to them. The Cardinals, Marlins, and Dodgers all had interest in Buchholz, too, the Dodgers looking at him as a power-hitting center fielder who could outrun anyone on the team.

The Sox' turn came; Buchholz was still on the board. Two years later, Jim Robinson was standing in front of the TV in his living room, grinning ear to ear.

"I was so proud of him," Robinson said. "Not only because of the no-hitter, a great accomplishment, but the way he handled himself. He acted like a 10-year veteran."

Is that how they make 'em in Texas? Jim Robinson laughed.

"Funny," he said, "but we talk about that at the draft. That when you come from Texas, you just expect to be big and strong and throw hard. Crazy."

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