Dave Roberts, the 2020 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers manager, credits his late father, who served 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, for his success as he leads the Dodgers into the 2022 season.
“I think about my father every day, but when I put on this camo, certainly I think about him a little bit more,” Roberts said about wearing camouflage-style hats for a Military Appreciation Weekend game last season.
“For baseball to have Military Awareness Weekend and for us as ballplayers to go out there and represent our servicemen and women, I think it’s important, and those men and women give us the opportunity to do this, to do what we love to do,” he added.
With Roberts at the helm, the Los Angeles Dodgers is baseball's winningest team since he took over in 2016 when he was named manager of the year.
Roberts grew up in a bi-racial home, making him the first major league baseball manager of Asian descent and the second Black manager, to lead a team to a World Championship. His father, Waymon Roberts, who passed away in 2017, enlisted in the Marine Corps as a teenager in 1968 and retired 30 years later as a Master Gunnery Sergeant. During his service, Waymon married his wife Eiko, a Japanese citizen, while stationed in Japan.
Dave Roberts led a typical military “brat” lifestyle, always on the go. His father’s military service took the family from Okinawa to California, Hawaii, and North Carolina. Knowing the strains it put on the family, Waymon regularly repeated a mantra that can still be useful for military families today.
“We have no choice about where we’re going, but we have a choice about what we do when we get there,” Roberts told the New York Times. “Like where you’re at; miss it when you’re gone.”
As Dave matured as an athlete, he almost went down his father’s path of military service. Initially turning down a guaranteed role on the Air Force Academy football team, Roberts instead competed for a possible spot at U.C.L.A playing baseball. There he became the school's all-time leader in stolen bases.
He then persevered to break through into the major leagues at the relatively old age of 27, playing for ten seasons, including having a pivotal role in the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.
As a manager, Roberts had challenges. Early in his tenure leading the Dodgers, he struggled with a last-place team, undoubtedly putting his managerial job in jeopardy. He leaned on his father’s guidance to get through the crisis, pulling the team out of last place and into playoff contention.
“My dad was very even-keeled,” Roberts said. “I would like to think I took that from him.”
Jackie Robinson’s Influence
This 2022 season is a special one for Roberts and Major League Baseball. It is the 75th anniversary of another famous Dodger, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in the sport.
“Jackie Robinson has had a huge impact on me. My father …instilled the values of civil rights, he was an athlete, and so he educated my sister and I a lot on Jackie. “Just to know that [Robinson] was going to be a pioneer, to walk this earth and to play a sport but to use that platform and to take a lot of criticisms, and things we don’t know about,” Roberts said in a UCLA video commemorating what would have been Robinson’s 100th birthday in 2019.
“I lift up Jackie, the whole Robinson family, and my father. For his legacy, and I have a responsibility, I feel, to do all right by Jackie every single day,” Roberts added.
(Photo credit: UCLA newsroom)