Man­ager Dave Roberts keeps Dodgers pointed to­ward World Se­ries glory

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports -

LOS AN­GE­LES - Dave Roberts’ first two years as the Los An­ge­les Dodgers’ man­ager have gone by in an ac­tion­packed blur.

He has watched 195 reg­u­larsea­son wins and sur­vived one aw­ful los­ing skid. He has won two NL West titles, three play­off se­ries and a pen­nant. He per­se­vered through his fa­ther’s death with al­most no time to grieve last spring, de­ter­mined to keep his team pointed to­ward its cham­pi­onship goal.

And though he played 2 sea­sons for the Dodgers, this UCLA prod­uct still some­times feels like a new­comer in blue.

“I’m learn­ing some­thing every day, I think,” Roberts said re­cently. “Be­ing more fa­mil­iar with the front of­fice, the play­ers, the coaches, I think that all of that has helped me be more com­fort­able in any sit­u­a­tion.”

Roberts rel­ishes the chance to re­flect on th­ese two crazy sea­sons — per­haps at his North County win­ery — af­ter the World Se­ries, which vis­its Dodger Sta­dium on Tues­day night for the first time in 29 years.

But un­til the Dodgers and the Hous­ton Astros are fin­ished, he’ll stay fo­cused on putting his highly paid play­ers in the best po­si­tions to chase that tro­phy. Al­though he had no man­age­rial as­pi­ra­tions un­til long af­ter his play­ing ca­reer ended, Roberts has grown pas­sion­ate about the work.

“I think that I just love the game,” Roberts said. “I love to teach. I love the play­ers. … I think that as your (play­ing) ca­reer evolves and starts to de­scend, you start chang­ing roles as far as men­tor, team­mate, role model, and then help­ing younger play­ers, and just lov­ing the teach­ing com­po­nent.”

Roberts is of­ten given credit for balanc­ing the de­mands of the prodi­gious base­ball minds in the Dodgers’ data-driven front of­fice and the hearts of the ballplay­ers do­ing the on-field work. He rou­tinely re­dis­tributes any praise among his play­ers and the team’s large group of ex­ec­u­tives and coaches — just as a leader should.

And while he was a sur­prise choice for the job in late 2015, Roberts has been just about as suc­cess­ful as any­one can be in an un­for­giv­ing, re­lent­lessly sec­ond-guessed pro­fes­sion.

In con­cert with the front of­fice, he has been in­no­va­tive and fear­less while the big-bud­get Dodgers honed new strate­gies to han­dle pitch­ing staffs and at­tempted to get max­i­mal value from all their ex­tra­or­di­nary as­sets.

Roberts won the NL Man­ager of the Year award as a rookie last sea­son while set­ting a ma­jor league record with 606 pitch­ing changes. With a few in­spired moves in the NL Divi­sion Se­ries against Wash­ing­ton, he helped the Dodgers to the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, where they ran into the des­tined Chicago Cubs.

Af­ter guid­ing th­ese cur­rent 104-win Dodgers past Ari­zona and Chicago in a 7-1 play­off ram­page, the for­mer out­fielder has the chance to add an­other cham­pi­onship ring to the one he earned through his mon­u­men­tal stolen base against Yan­kees closer Mar­i­ano Rivera dur­ing the Bos­ton Red Sox’s 2004 cham­pi­onship run.

“Doc gets a lot of re­spect be­cause he played the game, but the big­gest thing that he gives us is con­sis­tency,” Dodgers left­hander Rich Hill said. “If we’re win­ning six times a week or in a los­ing streak, he’s the same guy every day. He’s al­ways try­ing to make ev­ery­body bet­ter, and he doesn’t take days off. Teams feed off that, and the re­sults of it show up when you get to where we are in Oc­to­ber.”

Roberts has ma­jor ad­van­tages in his job: The high­est pay­roll in base­ball, a ros­ter stud­ded with ta­lent, and a loyal, vo­cif­er­ous fan base ea­ger for a cham­pi­onship.

He also has in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges: The Dodgers’ cham­pi­onship drought, a sur­plus of ta­lent to keep happy, those enormous ex­pec­ta­tions brought on by that fat pay­roll — and a loyal, vo­cif­er­ous fan base ea­ger for a cham­pi­onship.

At 45, Roberts ap­proaches it all with a stud­ied, con­ta­gious con­fi­dence.

“Doc is a smart man. He al­ways knows what to do in sit­u­a­tions,” said right fielder Yasiel Puig, whose ca­reer has been re­vi­tal­ized un­der Roberts and his coach­ing staff.

Roberts tries to speak to each of his play­ers every day, even if it’s just a greet­ing. He works the Dodgers’ club­house like a se­nior class pres­i­dent, check­ing in on every re­la­tion­ship and stay­ing abreast of ev­ery­body’s health. He gave him­self a men­tal break over the week­end, spend­ing a day at home in San Diego and en­joy­ing a fa­vorite wine.

Roberts would be the first man­ager of Asian de­scent to win a World Se­ries, and the sec­ond black man­ager to win a ti­tle, fol­low­ing Toronto’s Cito Gas­ton. He rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of those mile­stones, but he be­lieves they would mean more to his fa­ther.

Way­mon Roberts died at 68 dur­ing spring train­ing this year. The long­time Marine in­stilled a work ethic in his son and pro­vided a be­hav­ior tem­plate that he strives to teach his chil­dren and his play­ers.

Be­fore th­ese play­offs be­gan, Roberts said he had “a good cry” think­ing about how ex­cited his fa­ther, who fol­lowed the Dodgers vo­cif­er­ously, would have been about this play­off run.

“What would he tell me?” Roberts said. “He’d be wear­ing his big Dodgers blue jacket. He would just tell me how proud he was. Just go have fun.”

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