GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ That stolen base for the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 AL Championship Series will always be Dave Roberts’ biggest moment in baseball, unless he can manage the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series title.
And maybe it’s his youthful enthusiasm that makes it seem like Roberts retired as a player just yesterday.
Saturday morning, Roberts presided over the first workout for Dodgers pitchers and catchers. He stood a few feet from Clayton Kershaw as the ace threw his first pitches of spring.
Roberts, 43, hadn’t managed at any level until the Dodgers hired him to replace Don Mattingly.
“I feel I’m in a good place,” Roberts said a few minutes after addressing his players.
“It’s exciting and I think that as a coach, or as a first-time manager, you always want to control your emotions,” Roberts said. “But we just met for the first time in there and I let the guys know how excited I am, the staff is, and I’m sure they are to get going as well. Every spring training the first day is exciting, but obviously in this position it’s all new to me. But it’s going to be fun.”
Roberts couldn’t get an interview for the San Diego Padres’ managerial vacancy, yet he became the first Black manager in Dodgers franchise history. He takes over a team that won three consecutive NL West titles under Mattingly, who mutually parted ways with the team in November and became manager of the Miami Marlins.
Roberts moves up in stature and up the freeway. He was on Bud Black’s staff the last five seasons in San Diego, including the final two as bench coach.
After Black was fired in mid-June, Roberts managed the Padres for one game before Pat Murphy was brought in as interim manager. Murphy was fired the day after the season ended. Roberts wasn’t interviewed for the job that went to Andy Green, also a rookie skipper.
The Padres apparently wanted a clean break from the Black era.
“I think initially it took me back, but at the end of the day, if it’s not going to be a fit, then I do believe it’s not personal,” said Roberts, who was offered a chance to remain on San Diego’s coaching staff. “And so, I just felt it was time for me to move on. … I couldn’t be happier.”
Roberts will continue to make his offseason home in northern San Diego County, not far from where he went to high school. He played for the Padres in 2005-06, helping them win consecutive division titles. They haven’t been back to the postseason since.
Players and others mention how Roberts cares about everyone around him. Mark Kotsay, the Athletics’ new bench coach, is thrilled for his good friend.
“He definitely takes interest in the players and has a relationship, develops that relationship,” said Kotsay, who spent the previous four seasons with the Padres, two as a player, one in the front office and then last year as hitting coach. “He genuinely cares about people, which comes across very well. I think players will respect that and understand that he definitely will have to make tough decisions during the course of the season but also care about people.”
The Dodgers had baseball’s highest payroll last year. They haven’t won the World Series since 1988.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal, who spent three seasons with the Padres during Roberts’ time as coach, says the expectations for the Dodgers go way past another NL West title.
“I think the expectation here is a championship. A World Series,” he said. “I know a lot of organizations say the same thing, but I think this organization honestly believes it. I do think he is the right man for the job.”
Grandal said Roberts is a “people person; very smart, knows the game well enough to be able to explain it at a level where guys can understand it. At the same time, he basically just retired, not too long ago. It seems that way, because you always see the highlights of him stealing second base when he was with Boston.”
Roberts actually retired after the 2008 season, his last of two years with San Francisco.
Roberts played with the Dodgers from 2002 until being traded to Boston on July 31, 2004.
He is best known for stealing second in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS with the Red Sox three outs away from being swept by the New York Yankees. Roberts scored the tying run and David Ortiz won the game with a two-run homer in the 12th inning, a comeback that spurred Boston all the way to its first World Series title in 86 years.
“I knew that he stole second when everyone in the world knew he was going to steal and he still did it,” Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell said. “I can relate to that, being that kind of role player. Big Papi gets the headlines hitting the homer, but Dave set it up. I wish that was me.”
Grandal likes to have fun with Roberts.
“He has told me that if he was catching, then I’d probably be out,” Roberts said.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed from Mesa, Arizona.