Twenty-two years later, Dave Roberts still thinks about his blue and gold roots.
“The daily walk up and down Bruin Walk made me realize how fortunate I was to go to UCLA,” Roberts said. “UCLA really impacted me. From the professors to the student body, it’s really a special place.”
For Roberts, attending UCLA seemed like a no-brainer. Westwood was nestled in the heart of Southern California and was geographically close to his home in San Diego.
Along with the geographic proximity, the rigorous academics and the beautiful campus made it an easy decision to commit his four years as a Bruin.
Roberts didn’t have an athletic scholarship but impressed UCLA baseball coaches with his speed and enthusiasm and was able to walk on to the Bruins’ baseball team.
Although Roberts knew that UCLA was the place for him, he didn’t know the impact that it would have on his baseball career.
“My real love for baseball started when I got to UCLA. That’s where I understood that it could be potentially a career,” Roberts said. “Every single day when you see that Jackie Robinson statue and know you play at Jackie Robinson stadium, you just realize the honor and the opportunity that you have.”
As a Bruin, Roberts holds the record as the all-time leader in career steals with a total of 109. In 1994, during his senior year, he set the UCLA single-season record with 45 steals.
In his junior year, he hit .296 with 28 steals and declared for the MLB draft. Roberts was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 47th round, but was disappointed in his low selection and therefore opted to play his last year at UCLA and redeclare for the draft after graduation.
Coach of the UCLA Bruins for 30 seasons Gary Adams told Roberts that he needed to improve on his defense and throwing arm.
Roberts did that, leading the Bruins in outfield assists his senior year.
“As discouraged as I was after my junior year, (Adams) really motivated me to become a better player. Without my time at UCLA and around coach Adams’ influence, I would not be a major-league player but let alone a major-league manager right now.”
Roberts jumped 19 spots his senior year to claim the 28th round draft pick to the Detroit Tigers, all the while graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history.
“I think that my time at UCLA really opened my eyes that I can accomplish anything,” Roberts said. “That’s a big pond. There’s a lot of students there and a lot of brilliant people. And a lot of different ways as far as what they major in, sports – there are a lot of dynamic, brilliant people. And I think to be around those people really inspired me and challenged me.”
Roberts played in the major leagues for 11 years with five different MLB teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers for two years.
Since retiring as a player, Roberts coached for the San Diego Padres for four years, until he was named the new manager for the Dodgers in 2016.
Roberts’ career at UCLA and with the Dodgers has come full circle.
With the recent unveiling of the Jackie Robinson statue at Chavez Ravine outside Dodger Stadium, Roberts is constantly reminded of his roots as a Bruin.
“Speaking just as a former Bruin student, there is a lot of pride in knowing that one of the great social icons in our lifetime spent his years at UCLA,” Roberts said. “So for me, in a small capacity, I feel that responsibility to do life by the UCLA faithful in Jackie. He paved the way for a lot of people. And for me to continue to extend his legacy is a big responsibility that I take a lot of pride in.”
Roberts and the Dodgers will face the Philadelphia Phillies in UCLA Night at Dodger Stadium on April 28.
“It’s great to be back in Los Angeles. This is a placed I called home during my four years at UCLA, some of the best of my life,” Roberts said. “Really impacted as an adult and I am really looking forward to the blue and the gold in the stands for UCLA Night.”