For all who have ever played the game, hitting that World Series winning homer or striking out the last batter of a no-hitter is something we've played out in our minds time and time again.
That dream of being a hero and carrying your team on your back helps to keep players motivated.
When Dave Roberts came to the Red Sox in a late July trade with the Dodgers during Boston’s historic 2004 season, the hero moniker was unlikely for a backup outfielder in a sea of all stars.
Yet for any player still putting on a uniform, that fire to come through at the most opportune time still burns, because you never know when you’ll be thrust into the heart of it, as was the case with Roberts in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS that year.
It was the moment he thought about a million times as a kid, and during his years coming up through the minors.
Days and times that laid the groundwork for Roberts to become a part of history.
“Your season in the minor leagues ends at the beginning of September,” said Roberts. “I remember going home and working out and watching September baseball, and you’d watch the postseason and see all these big plays and you see highlights.
“Number one is having the opportunity to get to the big leagues and number two is having the opportunity to do something special and win a championship. For me that all kind of happened at one time.”
Roberts spent five seasons in the minors before making his debut with the Cleveland Indians as a 27-year-old in 1999.
A 28th round selection of the Tigers in 1994, he spent four years in their system before being sent to Cleveland as part of a trade for Geronimo Berroa.
His expedition to his “number one” step of reaching the majors took him from Jamestown to Buffalo and everywhere in between. Vital seasons that Roberts looks back on fondly.
“To be honest, they were some of the best days of my life,” said Roberts, who was the keynote guest at the Lowell Spinners Hot Stove Dinner earlier in January. “Friendships that I made then, I still have today. There is a small fraternity of guys trying to go through the grind and envision what it’s like to get to the big leagues.
“When you go to a small town, like Lowell, it makes me think back to the towns I played in, just how tight these communities are and how much they love and support their minor league team…it ties the minor league affiliate to the big league club.”
Those five years in the minors helped Roberts build a foundation that would push him to the majors and set up his big play.
The tenth year anniversary celebration of the Red Sox 2004 World Series title will no doubt be yearlong, especially on the heels of yet another championship season, and Roberts' steal will be replayed over and over, highlighting the moment that things changed in Boston's favor.
“I look back now and it’s very surreal, it seems so long ago,” said Roberts. “It’s hard to really believe that was me living in those moments. We’re talking about the ten year anniversary coming up. I don’t think the word humbling does it justice because I think ultimately you play this game to win a championship and it obviously means having a great team.”
While at the Lowell Spinners Hot Stove Dinner, Roberts, who is now a bench coach with the San Diego Padres, got to see and hear first-hand the impact of how a big play can immortalize.
“To a person they can vividly remember that night in October and where they were at and how that affected them,” said Roberts of the fans in attendance that he spoke with. “In certain respects I’m removed from it now that I’m coaching, but to come here, and I get it everywhere I go, people thanking me, members of the Red Sox nation in all parts of the country…to see the energy and the genuine love and affection for me is special.”
Roberts steal of second base against the Yankees that night set forth a chain of events that would change the fortunes of Red Sox nation forever.
It is arguably the defining moment of the Red Sox postseason run in 2004, a run that broke an 86-year championship drought, and it all started with a want to make that big play.
The Spinners announced on Wednesday that they will honor Roberts’ big play with a “Dave Roberts “The Steal” Bobble Head Giveaway” on August 7th.
Photo credit - Stan Grossfield/Boston Globe
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