Bringing it home

The San Diego Padres have brought back a number of players that originally played in the area and the results have been promising. Who wouldn't want to play in front of the home crowd?

Center fielder Dave Roberts is already making an impression on the Padres with his enthusiasm.

"It's great to see someone who is so excited to be here," manager Bruce Bochy said after a recent preseason workout at Petco Park.

"When we signed him, we were looking to improve our defense in center and our team speed, particularly in his leadoff spot. But we also knew he was going to be a big boost in the clubhouse. And everything I've seen and heard so far ... he's a great guy."

At the end of last season, Bochy discussed Roberts with Dodgers manager Jim Tracy and coach Jim Riggleman in the knowledge that the Padres would probably pursue the San Diego County prospect during the offseason.

"When I talked to Tracy and Riggleman, it was very clear how much they thought of Roberts as a man and as a teammate in the clubhouse."

As for Roberts, he says his dreams were answered when the Padres sent outfielder Jay Payton, utility infielder Ramon Vazquez and pitching prospect David Pauley plus cash to the Red Sox for him.

"I wanted to be a Padre so bad," said Roberts, who approached Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein after the World Series about the possibility of being traded to San Diego.

"Honestly, it's probably best that it didn't happen until now. I might not have been ready before. I might have been too excited about getting home, and maybe all the demands would have been too much. Now? I'm a better player and I know who I am."

On the day the Padres acquired Roberts, Kevin Towers gave him a high bar to clear. The general manager predicted Roberts could steal 60 or 70 bases in a full season. Last year, Roberts stole 38 bases in 368 plate appearances -- a success rate of 93 percent. The Padres as a team, by comparison, stole just 52 bases in 6,013 plate appearances.

"I don't run just to steal bases," said Roberts. "I run to win games. I'll do anything I can to help the Padres win. If I can promise one thing, it's to play hard and maybe offer another dimension to an already good lineup.

"I've been a Padres fan my whole life. I remember seeing Tony Gwynn in right field and Garry Templeton at shortstop and dreaming. When my dad was stationed in Hawaii, I watched the Islanders when they were the Padres' Triple-A team. Having the opportunity to play in San Diego is huge ... it's like going full circle back to my childhood dreams."

Unlike some Padres who believe the spaciousness of Petco Park neutralizes their power, Roberts believes the year-old ballpark plays to the strengths of his game.

"The first time I saw Petco Park, I was thinking they built the place with me in mind," he said. "I envisioned myself playing here. I love Petco, including the huge gaps. My game is covering the gaps on defense and finding them on offense. Am I concerned that I can't hit home runs here? There are a lot of places where I can't hit homers.

"Actually, a park like Petco is good for me. I can't even think about driving the ball here. It's going to take away my tendency to lengthen my swing. It'll keep me disciplined and keep my game on the ground."

Roberts was better known as a quarterback than a baseball player while at Rancho Buena Vista High in north San Diego County. An option quarterback, he led his team to a San Diego championship and was headed to the Air Force Academy to play football when he changed his mind at the last minute and decided to go to UCLA for baseball.

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