The game is getting faster. Most around him are bigger, stronger and more athletic than those he’s accustomed to playing with.
There will be growing pains, but Cole Roberts is not intimidated. A lifetime around baseball has prepared him for this moment, and he believes he’s ready.
The recent Santa Fe Christian graduate and son of former Major Leaguer and current Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts who has professional aspirations of his own is just starting his collegiate career at Division I Loyola Marymount.
Roberts is honoring a commitment to LMU despite being selected by the San Diego Padres in the amateur draft in June.
“You learn a lot,” Cole Roberts said of what being around the game since he was practically a toddler has meant to his development. “You just try to absorb all the information you can and try to put it to good use. You ask questions, because (Major League players) are the best in the world, so the more information you can get from them the better.”
Among those Cole Roberts has developed a rapport with is Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who he said has taken an interest in his career.
Adapting to the challenges of a game that’s getting much tougher has come up in conversations. Roberts is just months removed from concluding his prep career at SFC, where he helped lead the Eagles to the San Diego Section Division II semifinals.
Roberts is now competing with bigger and more experienced players already years into their collegiate careers.
Among the most valuable lessons he’s taken from his baseball mentors is that the game will always be intimidating. Learning how to not let it intimidate you is what matters most.
“Once you can get past that, then nothing else matters,” Roberts said. “That’s when you’re going to be successful.”
Putting these bits of baseball wisdom into practice is often much easier said than done. Even the best players in the game are constantly mastering and relearning them.
Roberts is already putting some of them into practice. He played high-level summer ball in Portland shortly after graduation. Later this fall he will get his first chance to showcase his skills to the LMU coaching staff in fall games.
“It was interesting to go off on my own,” said Roberts, who has been part of a tight-knit SFC community since he was in kindergarten.
“The first week there was a little bit of a learning curve, but the more at-bats you get the better hang of it you get.”
Nobody has influenced Roberts’ career more than his father. Roberts has tried to mold his game after his father’s – and not just by playing the same middle infield positions.
“He influences me a lot,” Roberts said. “He lets me do my own thing, but obviously I learned a lot of lessons from him because he played the game the right way, a hard worker and everything, so I try to just continue with his work ethic. I try make my own path, but still to take elements of his game into my game.”
They talk through challenging scenarios Roberts is sure to encounter, and some obscure ones he may not – if for no other purpose than to sharpen his baseball IQ.
“I learned a lot of this from my dad just by sitting down and watching baseball with him on TV,” Roberts said. “Pausing it, rewinding it, fast-forwarding it, just to try to see different portions of the game and seeing what they did and what elements of it I can implement into my own game.”
Roberts made the varsity as a sophomore at SFC and emerged as a leader, eventually being named a captain his senior year.
He never put up flashy numbers but was an excellent defender throughout his career, said SFC coach Lance Roenicke. Roberts played second base his sophomore year before sliding over to his preferred position at shortstop his junior and senior years.
He hit .287 both his senior and junior years, going a combined 56 for 195 over that stretch.
What set Roberts apart throughout his career was an off-the-charts baseball aptitude, work ethic and intangibles that reflect his passion for the game, Roenicke said.
“His next-level of thinking really does separate him from other players, and he’s going to take that into college and he’s gonna be ahead of the game as far as that goes,” Roenicke said. “He’s going to continue to get bigger and stronger and faster, but I think you have to have that mindset in order to really push you because it’s such a mental game.”
Roberts said the decision to forgo the opportunity to start his professional career in the Padres’ minor league system was a difficult one. In the end he made the decision in consultation with his family because he believes a college education will better prepare him for life – not just baseball.
“I was really excited to hear that I got drafted because that was something I’d always dreamed about when I was a little kid, but we ultimately decided that I’d develop more as a man and as a ballplayer if I went to Loyola Marymount for three or four years,” he said.
“There are so many life skills you’ll never learn, so many experiences you’ll never get back.”