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Cardiff resident Dave Roberts, in his eighth season as Dodgers manager, saw his team take three of four games in San Diego as it maintains its grip on the NL West. Photo by Jay Paris
Cardiff resident Dave Roberts, in his eighth season as Dodgers manager, saw his team take three of four games in San Diego as it maintains its grip on the NL West. Photo by Jay Paris
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Trip home continues ‘fun year’ for Dodgers’ Roberts

It’s difficult finding someone with deeper North County roots and more celebrated in baseball than Dave Roberts.

Yes, he’s the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which makes him a Hatfield in the eyes of so many McCoys. The Dodgers are good for one thing in our region, and that’s to serve as a bloated pinata that folks can swing at.

But when Roberts sees the swing of Freddie Freeman, his All-Star first baseman, his response is typical for someone who goes back to playing Little League in Oceanside and Vista.

“In the batter’s box, he is the modern-day Tony Gwynn,” Roberts said, referring to his one-time Padres teammate. “I’ll say that, and I stand by that.”

Roberts was standing nearby when Gwynn reached a significant career milestone. It’s one memory among many that Roberts collected during his two seasons playing for the Padres.

In Roberts’ second year here in 2006, he set career-highs with a .293 batting average, 49 steals and 13 triples, which tied Gwynn’s franchise mark.

“I was there for Tony’s 2,000th hit against the Rockies and I knew Tony as a friend,” Roberts said. “And I think Tony would take that as a compliment for me saying that about Freddie.”

Say this about Roberts: He’s delivered a career that few would have predicted when he walked on at UCLA, begging for a chance to keep his baseball dream alive.

After spending his freshman year at Vista High School, Roberts was a three-sport star at Rancho Buena Vista as the starting quarterback, point guard and center fielder. The college scholarship offers for this versatile athlete were nearly standing as tall as the undersized Roberts — then he demolished his knee that derailed his junior year.

“When you miss a season, your scholarships start to dwindle,” he said. “And I wasn’t the biggest guy, so there were a lot of doubters.”

Roberts ultimately became an All-American at UCLA, carved out a 10-year playing career despite being a 28th-round pick and now is in his eighth season of directing one of baseball’s most storied franchises.

L.A. took three of four from the Padres over the weekend, as Roberts relished staying at his Cardiff residence.

Home is where the heart is, but Roberts, who was denied a managerial interview with the Padres years ago, bleeds Dodger blue. If rooting for another team, it’s the Arizona Diamondbacks, where his son, Cole, is in its minor league system.

“It’s been a fun year for me,” Roberts said, and why not with the Dodgers again atop the NL West.

Considering how the Padres went south this year, Roberts’ statement about what makes his squad special is noteworthy. To be clear, Roberts wasn’t commenting on the Padres’ struggles, but one could surely see the differences between the clubs.

“It’s just good to see our superstars just really happy with the ballclub and everyone kind of following suit,” Roberts, 51, said. “We have good team chemistry, in fact, it’s the best I have ever had, and I’ve had some good ones.

“They play for the team, and they play because they respect the game of baseball. They don’t play for themselves and it’s fun to be around them. They are pros.”

Meaning what, exactly?

“I just think some people nowadays don’t know what it means to be a professional, and our guys are professional,” he said. “It’s in how you go about your work and in knowing that you are representing yourself, your team and the organization. Sports is getting away from that, but our guys, in our opinion, exemplify it well.”

That culture is embodied by the personable Roberts as he aggressively sprinkles advice and optimism. Doesn’t matter if you’re an All-Star like Freeman or a rookie like James Outman, Roberts is in your corner.

“He’s able to create a relationship with his players that just makes you feel comfortable in talking to him,” Outman said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re going into the principal’s office every time you talk to him.”

On principle, Roberts is among the top athletes, and managers, that North County has produced. On cue, he routinely gets booed by the locals, which isn’t surprising considering his attire.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports

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