Editor's note: "As Told To Amy G," presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Today, Amy catches up with friend-turned-friendly foe Dave Roberts.
Dave Roberts single-handedly has made it nearly impossible to detest the Dodgers. That's saying something from this Bay Area gal. I've been surrounded by Dodgers fans since birth, but I've never strayed from my loyalty to the boys in orange and black.
It's fair to say I don't root for the Dodgers, but I have to admit that I do root for Dave.
We first met in 2007, his first year with the Giants. I was covering the A's, and came by then-AT&T Park to interview new Giants skipper Bruce Bochy and new A's manager Bob Geren for a "Battle of the Bay" feature, and I knew their long friendship would play well in the piece. Dave had just been interviewed, and we were jumping on the existing set. He stood up, stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Dave Roberts," and I knew we'd be friends.
Dave never has met a stranger, is extremely approachable, and really, really loves baseball. His rise through the managerial ranks was fast, but once you meet Dave, you don't have much vetting to do. So, it's really no surprise the Dodgers scooped him up in 2016, and he has led them to three playoff and two World Series appearances.
I actually covered Dave with the Giants in 2008, his final season as a player. It was a disappointing season for him, to say the least, but a season in which the path to where he is today began to form.
And that's where we begin …
"I'll tell you, this is one of the biggest regrets that I had in my career, as far as not being healthy at the end of my career and not playing up to the ability that I knew I was capable of. When you talk about the fan base, the city, the ownership, the players, coaches I was around, it was such a special experience for me [in San Francisco].
"When I talk about Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, Rich Aurilia, Randy Winn and the relationships we had, how Randy, myself and Richie helped Matt and Timmy kind of find their way. Pablo Sandoval talks about when he was a rookie and people didn't like his flair, where we embraced it and taught him how to be a professional.
"But this city, I love coming to this ballpark. I just love the fan base. For me, I have great memories and feel very fortunate to be a Giant."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts (left) played under Giants manager Bruce Bochy for four seasons and learned his current craft under the retiring legend (Photo by USA TODAY Sports Images)
Roberts was under Bochy's tutelage for several seasons. They shared two seasons with the Padres and two with the Giants. Playing for Bochy as a veteran gave Roberts exclusive insight not just into managing but how Bruce managed.
Roberts knew he was playing for a mastermind, and he soaked up everything he could from one of the best in the game on and off the field.
"This guy is a very good friend of mine. Bruce Bochy is a future Hall of Famer. Just in the game, he's one of the best I've ever been around. I played for him, I coached and managed against him. He just really appreciates and has that great relationship with players, which obviously through a 20-plus-year managing career, those relationships are going to continue to live on.
"His love for the city of San Francisco, his love of food and wine, he's very approachable. But I will say it's interesting to see how now he's softened. Now he's a big teddy bear. Where this 6-foot-4 massive man is now a grandpa, and he's got a lot more softness to him, which I give him a hard time about.
"But he's had just a tremendous run, and he's a legend here in San Francisco.
Roberts was a late bloomer in baseball terms. He made his MLB debut with the Dodgers at 27. His maturity kept him humble and reflecting, as he believes the time he dedicated to graduating from college at UCLA and grinding it out in the minor leagues directly affects how much he appreciated every day as a player and every day he's now spent as a major league coach and manager.
"I was a low-round draft pick. I signed for a whopping $1,000, and so I'm still living off that, and I think it's one of those things that you just have to keep performing and keep creating opportunities for yourself. I was always that extra outfielder in the minor leagues, drafted at 22, then … getting to the big leagues at 27, that's a little bit later, so you just have to keep performing.
"I think for me the gratefulness of being a professional baseball player, and then when you did get here never forgetting how hard it was to get here. As I played the game, my appreciation went through the clubhouse, with the fans, with the ushers, coaches, managers. Because I really felt grateful. I respect the game, I love the game, and to wear a major league uniform, there's nothing like it. I do like to think that the way I played reflected that."
Roberts' most iconic moment as a player came with the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. One stolen base helped reverse the World Series championship curse, and Boston forever will be indebted to his quick feet and superb base-running instincts.
Since Dave is responsible for such a legendary moment, I was curious if he's ever had to buy a beer in Beantown since 2004.
"It was certainly my defining moment as a player. Early on, I was kind of sick of hearing it. I was like, ‘Man, I played for 10 years, and that's all people can talk about.' But you kind of step away from that and understand that people in sports love moments, and for a fan base like the Red Sox, it's so humbling and crazy to imagine that I was a part of that team and history. The lure of breaking the curse, all that stuff, it's very humbling.
"To your question about Boston buying drinks, I have bought some dinners, but as far as alcoholic beverages, I haven't had to pay for one."
Roberts retired after 2008, and the next few years weren't easy. In 2010, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and kept away from the game he loved. After a brutal year of treatment, Dave battled and beat cancer.
In 2011, he rejoined his brethren as the Padres' first base coach. His eagerness to learn the coaching side put him on the fast track to managing, but he wasn't so sure that's where he wanted to end up.
"I think it started when I was with the Giants. And that's where you're a veteran player, you see young players, you're trying to mentor them, you're really locking in on what the manager is doing and what Ronnie Wotus was doing as a bench coach in that point in time. You're talking about the ins and outs of game management.
"Those relationships with those young players, there's the game and seeing it from a different perspective, then I kind of toyed with the idea of coaching. I couldn't see myself as a major league manager, which is crazy right now as I sit here. But I really thought coaching might be something -- I love competing, I love being a part of a team, I love trying to make people better and players better, so then what better way to do that then coaching? Then the next progression obviously is managing."
Dave Roberts is just one of four African Americans to manage in a World Series game, and he'd like to see that change with more diversity in the game (Photo by The Associated Press)
Roberts has an interesting background. His dad was African American, his mom Japanese. He is painfully aware of the decline of African American players in Major League Baseball. In fact, he is just one of four African Americans to manage in a World Series game.
Among minorities in the game, there is a sense of responsibility to make the sport more diverse. Roberts is putting his money where his mouth is … and actually doing something about it.
"So, it's interesting. Obviously, in a vacuum, I want to see an improvement as far as the numbers of African Americans [in baseball]. There are Latin managers, minority coaches, and I think that as far as African American players go, the numbers have really gone down at a remarkable rate. The Latin player is going to continue to ramp up -- there's obviously a lot of talented players from the Dominican, Venezuela, Puerto Rico -- but as far as African American players, it's really gone down. And you think it's just unfortunate because in inner cities, the opportunities for a young kid of color to play baseball is a third and fourth choice. Baseball just doesn't seem like a priority, and there's so many great athletes.
"I'm actually very proud of the fact that I'm on the baseball pipeline committee. We're talking about women, minorities getting really valuable jobs and impactful jobs in baseball. … But for me, as far as one in four managers [in a World Series], I do see it as a responsibility. I'm very proud of it.
"Randy Winn is a good friend of mine, former Giant and … I'm trying to get him on the coaching side because I think he'd be a great manager. George Lombard is our first base coach – I'm trying to dig in and pour into him about potentially being a manager. So, there's names out there that I'm really trying to encourage guys to take the leap of faith or put in the time because it is time, and know that you belong there."
Thanks to Manouk Akopyan for your Toyota Fan Question for Dave on Twitter!
Having been on both sides, what's the most memorable rivalry story that Dave Roberts can share from each team?— Manouk Akopyan (@ManoukAkopyan) April 30, 2019
"OK, so one, it's a rivalry, and it's just a great story. I think it was in 2004, Giants-Dodgers. I'm in center field with the Dodgers, and Eric Gagne is on the mound. Barry Bonds is hitting. This stand-off was special.
"I was talking to Eric Gagne because they had played in the Japan all-star game the winter before, and Barry and him made a deal that if the game wasn't in the balance and I came up, I want you to challenge me with the fastball. Eric was telling me this before we were going to come here and play these guys. And so I was kind of waiting for this opportunity.
"We were up three runs, Barry is up at bat, and I take the field. I think it was two outs, so fastball, fastball -- I can't count the sequence. But I do recall Barry hit a ball into the drink over there [in McCovey Cove] -- foul. And then Eric threw one of his changeups, and Barry looked at him like, 'Hey man, this was supposed to be all fastballs.'
"And so ultimately Barry hit a ball, it seemed like off the scoreboard in center field. And just like two guys at the top of their game to go toe-to-toe here, Giants-Dodgers, that was pretty awesome."
Had to ask: Did you ever talk to Barry about it?
"I did, and he validated that story."