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Dave Roberts brings much-needed energy and passion as Dodgers manager

Dave Roberts brings much-needed energy and passion as Dodgers manager
New Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts (30) shares a laugh on stage with General Manager Farhan Zaidi, left, and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, right, during an introductory news conference. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

It was broadcast on a cable network that half of Los Angeles can't watch. There were questions about a star pitcher who could be skipping town. There was talk of a troubled outfielder allegedly involved in a barroom scuffle.

When the Dodgers began a celebratory news conference to announce their new manager Tuesday, the stadium club felt oddly dark and ominously cluttered.

Dave Roberts lit it up with his smile.

"I like grit," he said. "Grit is an unrelenting passion and desire from a common goal and we're not going to waver from that."

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Roberts cleared the clouds with his passion.

"I do believe in team offense, situational hitting, in competing every pitch, running the bases," he said. "When teammates watch you competing every pitch, go first to third on a hit, create an opportunity for the next guy …"

Roberts flipped the narrative with his fire.

"There's a way to play baseball that, if you look back, is the Dodgers way," he said. "People can look back at the Dodgers and say, 'These guys stuck their nose in it, they got hit by pitches, took extra bases, made plays, hit cutoff men' … it's a responsibility for us to play our tails off."

By the time he was finished, Roberts had shut out doom, gone deep on cynicism and won his first managerial moment in the same scrapping style that marked a 10-year playing career that included three spikes-flying seasons with the Dodgers.

"The culture is going to be positive-driven, energy-driven," Roberts said, and, goodness, this 27-year World Series drought could use a deluge of both.

Roberts can't fix the two-years-and-counting TV debacle, an issue that remains squarely in the lap of Dodgers President Stan Kasten. But he will certainly bring hope to fans who are weary of watching the Dodgers fail during October nights when games are broadcast everywhere.

Peter Guber, the Dodgers co-owner, says Roberts reminds him of another rookie coach who was hired by Guber's other pro sports team. You know, that Steve Kerr guy for the Golden State Warriors.

"[Roberts] turned 'me' into 'we,' he's going to have a collection of players that are committed to being a team, that's what's exciting for us," Guber said.

Magic Johnson, the Dodgers co-owner who handed Roberts his No. 30 jersey at the news conference, added, "I like what he said up there about grit. He will bring some toughness to our team."

He will also bring Dodgers history as the first minority manager of Jackie Robinson's franchise. Roberts, whose father is African American and whose mother is Japanese, said he never really thought much about it until after he was hired, and there have been moments since when he couldn't stop thinking about it.

"It's big, it's big, and I humbly take this opportunity like a responsibility," Roberts said. "A lot of people sacrificed a lot to create opportunities. It's bigger than us, bigger than the game of baseball, and I'm very proud."

Sharing those feelings Tuesday was Dodgers legend Don Newcombe, who softly patted his hand to his coat lapel in a gesture of emotion.

"I'm so proud of what just happened," Newcombe said. "There's three black men that signed contracts that I'm proud of. Jackie Robinson, Barack Obama. And now Dave Roberts."

Even the controversy surrounding Roberts' hire was at least temporarily overshadowed by his spirit. There has been rampant speculation that Roberts was the choice of an ownership group that denied Andrew Friedman's initial selection of minor league director Gabe Kapler, which would make this a striking loss for the Friedman administration.

However, those reports were refuted in every corner Tuesday. The main players painted a consistent picture of a managerial search that may have started with Kapler in the lead, but ended almost immediately after Roberts blew away officials, including Friedman and General Manager Farhan Zaidi, with an inspirational interview. In the end, he beat out Kapler because of his two seasons as a San Diego Padres bench coach and his overwhelming spirit.

Said Guber: "The word 'ownership' doesn't mean managerial control, it means emotional and cultural direction. Those men [Friedman and Zaidi] led the charge. They framed up the candidates, and once they got to a small number they put it in front of other people who were stakeholders in the equation. Then they [Friedman and Zaidi] were the ones who executed, on all levels, those kinds of choices."

Said Friedman: "We went through a very exhaustive process. Dave Roberts was far and away the best choice. The final decision was definitely mine."

This doesn't mean Roberts won't be receiving some serious managerial direction from Friedman and Zaidi, but he acknowledged that working with today's analytics is no different than spending late nights hanging out with veteran coaches and studying video when he was a player.

"I'm definitely open … look back at me … I was trying to get an edge," Roberts said. "I think all great organizations in any industry depend on collaboration."

The makeup of Roberts' coaching staff will be the first indication of the extent of the collaboration, which some feel will be heavier than usual because Roberts is a rookie manager. Here's hoping Roberts is allowed to handpick at least one trusted coach as a dugout ally. If he's going to preach team, he needs to know that team fully supports him.

"You talk about [my] style of play, it's not small ball, it's just playing team baseball, the idea of winning every pitch, competing every pitch," Roberts said. "If you can get the collective group to buy into that, with the talent we have ..."

That talent might not include free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke if he signs elsewhere. But it might include the troubled Yasiel Puig if he is not traded, and Roberts said he is ready.

"There's been things said about [Puig], but things are said about everybody, and I'm looking forward to getting to know him, building that relationship," he said.

There was all sorts of building happening Tuesday, the Dodgers beginning the slow rise from their third consecutive postseason failure with an energetic burst of hope. For a couple of hours, Dave Roberts owned the room. Down below, the field was waiting.

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