Well before the COVID-19 pandemic ended its season, 2020 was already shaping up to be an emotionally charged year for the Plano Senior baseball team.
The Wildcats had rallied around a mantra of ‘A New Beginning,’ hungry for a return to the postseason after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 the year prior. They did so behind a roster chalked in senior leadership, led by several players with at least three years of varsity experience under their belts.
Meanwhile, there was another layer of emotion to the Wildcats’ season, something that only one person in the Plano dugout knew about. Before the Wildcats so much as threw the first pitch of their abbreviated 2020 campaign, head coach Rick Robertson knew that this season would likely be his last.
That turned out to be the case, as the longtime leader of Plano baseball recently announced his retirement.
“I had been looking at it the last couple years and I kind of thought this would be my last one. I just planned from there,” Robertson said. “We had been talking about it for a while. I don’t if there’s ever a great time when you start thinking about it, but we just felt like this was the time.”
Robertson’s decision closes the book on a 38-year career on the sidelines, including the past 13 at Plano.
“Plano was very good to me. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly and not just for coaching,” Robertson said. “The coaching was great, the kids were great, and I had great support from the school and the boosters, but the teaching atmosphere at Plano Senior — I always enjoyed that part.”
Robertson no doubt wishes that he had been able to play out his final season in a different fashion. He hoped he could have been seen what was shaping up to be a promising year at Plano, which sat at 10-1 when the season was cancelled, through to the finish line. He wished he could have told his players his decision in person, instead having to do so electronically.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing — not being able to stand in front of them and do it that way,” Robertson said. “But I think they were pretty surprised but still very appreciative. As I told somebody, when I was telling [campus athletic coordinator Todd Ford and Plano ISD athletic director Jeff Smith], it wasn’t the happiest day of my life walking in there to retire. It was kind of bittersweet, saying goodbye to one thing and welcoming the next chapter in my life.”
For nearly four decades, that chapter centered on coaching. Robertson got his start in high school baseball in the mid-1980s at Winnsboro, presiding over a program that was in just its third year of existence. Stops at Canton and Sulphur Springs followed before Robertson spent more than 30 years coaching in the Metroplex. He logged 10 playoff appearances in 18 years coaching at South Garland before being hired by PISD in 2007. Mired in a five-year playoff drought at the time, Plano would miss the playoffs only three times across Robertson’s 13 seasons at the helm.
“It was an amazing time and an amazing group of kids — some excellent talent,” Robertson said. “I got to work with a great group of coaches. Dr. (Doyle) Dean, the principal when I got there, was awesome and then Sarah (Watkins) and Jaydon (McCullough) showed so much support on and off the field as well. It was a great 13 years. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
He made plenty of memories along the way, guiding Plano to some of its brightest pastures ever on the baseball diamond. Robertson remembers the 2011 club that spurred his first lengthy playoff run at Plano by advancing to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1999. Three years later, Robertson had the most successful season of his career when he coached the Wildcats to a roller-coaster postseason run that culminated in the regional finals. A mere four wins separated Plano from a state championship that year — something Robertson wishes he could have accomplished during his career.
In total, Robertson guided the Wildcats to nine playoff appearances, including eight consecutive from 2011-18, and capped his career with 583 wins.
“I always tell the kids that sometimes you don’t think as much about the good things as much as some of the mistakes you’ve made — wishing I had done this or that in a certain game,” Robertson said. “I think about those probably as much as anything else.”
“He really believed in and trusted his guys and that’s what you want from a coach. It was a memorable four years,” said Hunter Reid, recent Plano graduate.
One of his fondest memories came during that mid-2010s stretch, however, when he got the chance to coach his son, Ryan, who anchored the Wildcats’ middle infield from 2012-14. Ryan Robertson earned newcomer of the year as a sophomore and two more all-district nods before going on to play for Paris Junior College.
“That was a very special moment and a very special time. It just coincided with the best year I ever had coaching — the most successful and so forth,” Robertson said. “That year had some of our most exciting games as well.”
Ryan Robertson was among a laundry list of players who went on to play collegiately during his dad’s tenure at Plano — the Wildcat baseball team’s website lists 73 players as having committed to play college baseball during Robertson’s time with the program. A select few even got a chance at plying their craft professionally, with Plano alums Bo Altobelli, Mitchell Hansen, Alex Bisacca, Matt McLean and Cody Farhat all selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s very special. I keep a list of the guys that have gone on to play at the next level and the level after that,” Robertson said. “I still remain friends with a lot of those guys. They’ll send texts to wish me a happy birthday and things like that are really special. I was blessed with not just good talent but great kids. Some didn’t get that opportunity to go on and play professional ball but they were outstanding high school and collegiate players.”
"Coach Rob did so much for me on and off the baseball diamond," Hansen said. "Every offseason I always looked forward to coming back to Plano to train and simply catch up with coach Rob. He was always welcoming, and it felt like I never left.
"My favorite memory with coach Rob was the walk-off win in the fourth round of playoffs in 2014 at Baylor. That playoff run is one I won’t ever forget, and I have coach Rob to thank for that and many more unforgettable moments."
Those relationships will continue as Robertson settles into the next chapter of his life. Camping at Lake Tawakoni since the season’s conclusion, he mentions traveling and enjoying the outdoors as future aspirations. He said he jokes daily about asking when his wife, Leslie, will join him in retirement.
Robertson said the realization of not having a season to prepare for likely won’t set in until the school year begins in August. Nevertheless, the longtime ball coach still has plenty planned in the years to come.
“We’re enjoying right now and taking it as it comes — what I’ve always done,” Robertson said.