By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor
If Dave Roberts was sweating a bit, it was to be expected, but overall, he showed little of the pressure that surely befalls a first-time major league manager at his formal introduction. One point, however, was expressed without any hint of uncertainty.
“I understand what it means to wear this uniform. This is my dream job,” he said firmly.
Roberts, 43, was presented to the media during a Dec. 1 press conference at Dodger Stadium, where he got his first taste of the spotlight – and the scrutiny – that a big-league skipper must endure.
Added to the weight of the situation is the gravity of knowing he is the first minority manager of the Dodgers, a franchise that dates back to 1890. Roberts, born on Okinawa, is the son of an African American father and a Japanese mother. However, he said he had advanced well into the interviewing process before he realized the significance of his possible hiring.
“There’s a lot of people that paved the way for me to ultimately have this opportunity. That isn’t taken lightly. It’s something that I’m going to carry with me forever,” Roberts said.
Praise for his being selected was further emphasized by former Dodger pitching great Don Newcombe, who put the importance of this event into historical perspective.
“There was Jackie Robinson, then Barack Obama, now Dave Roberts,” Newcombe intimated.
Roberts’ father, Waymon, said his son has worked hard all his life, but the opportunity to manage one of baseball’s most storied dreams is the stuff of fairy tales.
“This is amazing,” the elder Roberts said. “We always want the best for our children, but nobody ever dreams about this.”
Eiko, Roberts’ mother, is a native of Okinawa and met Waymon while he was stationed there with the U.S. Marines. She said her son demonstrated at a young age how motivated he could be.
“As a child, he showed drive, leadership, for sure,” said Eiko, who is a member of the Okinawa Kenjin-kai of San Diego. “A lot of friends have called, and they are tremendously proud that someone from Okinawa has achieved such a great thing.”
Known around baseball for his infectious smile, team-building skills and keen baseball acumen, Roberts wowed team officials from the first interview in their managerial search.
“We said we wanted someone who would be open to new ideas,” said Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. “Dave personifies that. He has an intellectual curiosity, he’s been around different front offices and different philosophies, and we sensed there would be a real collaborative process in how we would put the team together, how he would run the team, and that really excited us about him.”
The next great challenge for Roberts will be taking over a team that, despite winning its division crown three straight years, has little to show for its playoff efforts. This year, the Dodgers got as far as the National League Championship Series before being handily pushed aside by the New York Mets.
Roberts later described a conversation that almost wasn’t, a phone call from none other than the iconic Dodgers play-by-play announcer, Vin Scully.
“I got a lot of calls over the past couple of weeks, so I’ve been kind of screening them. I was sifting through the messages and I hear the voice of this amazing storyteller, and we all know this voice.
“You can imagine my surprise,” he added.
Scully, who has announced that 2016 will be his 67th and last year in the Dodgers’ broadcast booth, took time on his birthday Sunday to call Roberts and congratulate him on his hiring.
“For him, on his 88th birthday, to seek out Dave Roberts and welcome him back to the Dodgers … it was very humbling. That was a big moment for me.”
The festive mood of the day took a somber turn when Newcombe, 89, collapsed shortly after the announcement and was rushed to a hospital. However, the four-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner was reported to be resting comfortably at home that afternoon.