I have a special place in my heart for Los Angeles Dodgers team manager Dave Roberts. As the first person of color to lead the MLB team, he’s broken barriers while unifying players and fans in new ways. On top of that, he’s a genuinely good guy – hardworking and full of grit, sure, but also highly skilled in the art of diplomacy and making others feel seen and heard and understood. And, in April 2016, his inaugural season leading the boys in blue, I, too, started a new role at Dodger Stadium.
As a community relations manager, much of my work consisted of an endless run of pre-game field activations. I would watch in awe as Roberts pushed his players with a tenacious, big-brotherly love, fielded reporters with respect and stopped what he was doing to talk to adoring fans my colleagues and I brought down to the field for meet-and-greets. I remember him kneeling on the field to get eye level with a kid in a wheelchair, clasping a soldier’s hand with both of his in mutual admiration, encircling his arms around the shoulders of Crenshaw High School students.
For our Father’s Day cover this year, we are delighted to feature Roberts and wife Tricia, daughter Emmerson, 15, and son Cole, 19, who is a student at Loyola Marymount University, where he plays on the baseball team.
In addition to navigating family life around managing a baseball team, Roberts is co-founder of Red Stitch wines, and during off-seasons (and the quarantine), he enjoys acting as sommelier to his wife’s meals. I initially caught up with him in February, just before he left for spring training and a full month before the pandemic shut down sports arenas. I conducted a second interview with him in May. It is now June, when L.A. would have been deep in Dodger blue, but Roberts’ optimism even in the midst of mass uncertainty is just what we all need right now.
How do you juggle managing a Major League Baseball team and a family life?
It can get difficult, but we’re very faith-driven as a family, and that drives a lot of our outlook on things. I think the thing with parenting as a major league coach and manager is that the benefit in my case is that my wife has been with me from the beginning. We just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.
Tricia – she’s the glue. She’s a whole person, and that’s something that I strive to be. Regardless of who she’s around, or what setting, you’re going to get the same person. To be a major league manager’s wife, it’s not easy, but she understands the grind. She keeps everything moving forward and keeps us together.
How do you honor both family time and couple’s time?
My wife and I recently [pre-quarantine] took a trip to Blackberry Farm, an adult trip with a couple of couples, and it was wonderful. We’ve done a really good job of doing that, and I think it’s important for the kids to see us getting away together and bonding.
What are your kids like?
My daughter is outgoing and positive. She sings, acts, dances … she does it all. She’s great. She’s kind of that light that comes from an internal place, and she’ll try anything. Most people don’t do things unless they know they’re going to have success, but not her. She’ll do it anyway, and to be honest, she’s taught me in that area.
That father-daughter relationship in this world is just so important, so I know that whatever time I do have, I need to be present with her. I realize that she’s looking for my approval or my attention, whether it’s a musical she’s in or tennis or whatever, and I want to be there for her.
My son, who is a freshman at LMU, is very witty and somewhat reserved. He’s very loyal. There’s a humility to him and confidence, too. There’s also a fire.
That’s an interesting combination.
He’s a mixed bag. I joke with my kids that they’re both the best of my and my wife’s best qualities. With my son now, we’re transitioning from the parent role to the advisor role. We’re not trying to micromanage his life. It’s more about him coming to us for advice.
Was Cole naturally drawn to baseball, or did you push him toward it?
No, it was all natural. I tried to push him to play other sports, actually, but as soon as he could pick up a baseball, that’s what he wanted to do. I didn’t try to dissuade him from baseball; I just wanted him to try other things to get exposure to a variety of sports.
Did you ever coach him?
No. I let the coaches do that. I was always kind of in the background. I tried to respect the coaches and not get in their way. I don’t think my son cared who I was or what I did. We butted heads, but now we get along really well. He loves LMU and his goal is to play professional baseball.
Are there any similarities between parenting and coaching a baseball team?
I think the one thing I can say is that you have to manage each child differently, just like you have to manage each player differently. Figure out the different things that make each one tick, what upsets them. Obviously, as a parent, you have that built-in love and trust with your kids, but as a manager, that has to be earned.
For my players who have families, family is first and foremost. As a team manager, you get a chance to lead men, and you have to earn their respect and trust, and for them to know that you care about them. It’s important for me to take time to learn about them and their families. I learn from players and coaches as well about parenting. Every player wants to do the best that he can in terms of his family. If there’s some family matter that’s taking their mind away from the game, family has to be first.
What were you doing when the shutdown first happened? How did you and your players process it?
I think we were a little bit more than a week out from breaking [spring training] camp … getting ready to start our season. In spring training, you’re sort of living life in a bubble. It’s Groundhog Day, and you’re just focused on getting the players ready to play baseball.
We were at a night game in Arizona when I got word that the NBA called the players off the court and canceled the game, and at that point in time I knew it was something really serious that could affect our game. I think that the less information that you have, the more scared and worried you are. The main priority was to get players and coaches back with their families, but still really not knowing how long this was going to be. It’s been a time of constantly trying to get educated and trying to keep players and coaches optimistic and prepared for a possible season.
At this point [in May], how are your players doing?
They’re chomping at the bit, they’re antsy, but they’re still remaining hopeful. With baseball players, you don’t know what the grind of eight months of a season, including spring training and the postseason, is until you do it. The challenge for players is that when you don’t have a starting point and an endpoint, you don’t know what to do with yourself, so this is kind of the world we’re in now with the uncertainty. You can tell the players, “We’re going to play for eight months, nine months, 10 months” … whatever the number, they can calibrate physically to get through it, but not knowing, they’re kind of wallowing right now. I’m trying to keep them up.
Everything’s going to be different now, and that’s the encouragement I have for the players. You’re still a professional, you’re still going to be competing to win the championship …
How has your family been during the quarantine?
After spring training [was canceled], I came home and LMU closed shortly thereafter. We went up one weekend and moved Cole out of his dorm, brought his stuff home and he started doing online classes. My daughter’s school closed, and she was doing online stuff as well.
My wife couldn’t be happier having both of her kids under the same roof and having me around to help out. Every night, it’s family dinner, bingeing shows together and walking the dogs, so that’s been a really good reset for us. And we have conversations about three things we can work on while we’re here in quarantine as a family. For me, it was being constant with my devotionals, being present with my family and being more consistent with physical fitness.
People look at you as a role mode, and your faith is very strong. What advice do you have about how to handle disappointment – whether it’s the impact of a pandemic or not winning the World Series?
I look at disappointment as an opportunity, and I think when you look at it from that lens, it spins it in a positive way. Whether it’s an opportunity to look at ways to help yourself grow and how can I learn from this, or how can I help others. I just really encourage my kids to look at things as a way of looking outward and not making it about yourself. As a manager, you don’t have that luxury of making things about yourself. It’s always about trying to help people be the best versions of themselves. That outlook gives you a really good chance of overcoming any adversity.