Some of Dave Roberts’ biggest fans live in Houston
Family of Dodgers manager is cheering him on in the World Series
HOUSTON — Angie Evans St. Julien picked up her phone and initially reacted with excitement upon hearing the voice of her first cousin, Dave Roberts. “How’s it going?” she asked.
Roberts had just found out that he had been traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox on July 31, 2004.
Rejection was the most palpable emotion St. Julien sensed from Roberts on that phone call. Her normally easygoing, high-spirited younger cousin was clearly upset.
Roberts’ wife, Tricia, was seven months pregnant with the couple’s daughter, on the precipice of not being able to fly. Now, Roberts was being sent across the country.
What did God have in store for him? Neither he nor St. Julien had the answer on that day.
“Before we got off the phone, he and I prayed,” St. Julien said.
Fast-forward to Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Roberts had been inserted as a pinch runner on first base with the Red Sox down a run with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and trailing 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the series.
Roberts crouched several steps off the bag with his left leg bent. He takes off as Yankees closer Mariano Rivera begins to throw the pitch.
Jorge Posada collects it and throws a dart to shortstop Derek Jeter. Roberts beats the tag and completes the play known as “The Steal” against three eventual Hall of Famers. That play led to Roberts eventually coming in as the tying run, which culminated in the Red Sox winning Game 4 in extra innings.
That victory spurred three more wins for Boston that secured its ticket to the World Series, which the Red Sox won to end their 86-year championship drought.
Roberts didn’t play in that World Series, but three months after calling St. Julien frustrated about being traded, Roberts had his answer.
“I ask him sometimes, ‘Hey, how’s my World Series ring?’ ” St. Julien joked. “He can’t even buy a beer in Boston, people love him so much.”
Roberts is now in his second season as manager of the Dodgers and has the team with the best regular-season record in major league baseball playing in the Fall Classic against the Houston Astros. Roberts and the Dodgers find themselves down, 3-2, after falling 13-12 to the Astros in Sunday night’s epic Game 5, with the final two games scheduled for Dodger Stadium.
As Roberts’ aunt, Brenda Roberts Evans, watches Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda give up a three-run home run to Astros second baseman José Altuve in the bottom of the fifth inning to knot Game 5 at seven runs apiece, she makes an admission:
“I prayed for this,” she said as she sits in her Dodger blue shirt with Roberts’ name and managerial No. 30 on the back. “Well, not this outcome, but I prayed for the Dodgers and Astros to play each other so we could see him.”
Her son Dennis Evans, St. Julien’s brother, expounds further: “It’s crazy: You root for family while your city is battling back in the World Series.”
St. Julien, Brenda and Dennis are three of the 50 members of the Roberts family who have gathered at The City of Faith Church in Humble, Texas, to watch the third and final World Series game in Houston before the teams return to Los Angeles for Tuesday’s Game 6, and if necessary, Wednesday’s Game 7.
At the top of the fifth inning, the family begins giving high-fives and shouting, “One more game!” after Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger smacks a three-run shot 378 feet into the stands to give Los Angeles a 7-4 cushion.
“I’m going to the parade,” Brenda says.
You think you’re going to make the trip?
“I think I’m going to the parade. Angie, we’re going to the parade,” Brenda says to St. Julien.
“We are?” she says back.
“Well, I’m flex, so I’m going,” Brenda retorts.
St. Julien begins to cough. “I think I’m coming down with something,” she says to an outbreak of laughter.
The Roberts family is from Houston and its surrounding area. Before anyone starts thinking this is a story about a family’s allegiances being divided, let’s put a kibosh on that.
This family could not be more united if it wanted to be. Almost everyone at the watch party, which was set up by Roberts’ second cousin Morika Davis, are sporting those blue shirts with Roberts’ name and number on the back. Another cousin, Dona Davis Donaldson, designed them, and more than half the people wearing them also have a Dodgers hat of some kind on their head.
Not a single Astros jersey, shirt or other piece of apparel could be found.
“If Houston wins, we party for maybe one night?” Dennis Evans said. “I don’t know not one Astro personally. I would rather my cousin win and stack up his achievements. If someone is going to win, I’d rather it be my cousin, ’cause that would stick with him forever.”
For the most part, the family was not affected by Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that enveloped Houston. But they suffered their own devastating loss when Roberts’ father, Waymon, died unexpectedly on March 17. His death rocked the family to the point that his siblings weren’t sure of how to tell their mother, Lola Belle “Madea” Roberts, that her oldest son had died.
“Waymon was Dave’s biggest fan,” Dennis said. “He was at any and every game he could attend. … When he wins the World Series, you’ll see the full emotion. Wouldn’t be surprised if he says, ‘This one’s for you, Dad.’ ”
It’s not unusual for Madea to pick up the phone and push three numbers in succession. Then she stops. Madea puts the phone down and reminds herself that if she calls that number the person she’s trying to reach won’t pick up.
She went through that when her mom died in 1972, and she went through that again after Waymon’s death. Getting out of the habit of reaching out and expecting to hear from him. Mother’s Day was the hardest. Waymon made it a ritual to send his mother care packages and cards on holidays. She still has the last card he sent her. It came a month before he died, his traditional Valentine’s Day card.
“The thing that hurts the most is that he didn’t tell us how bad his health was,” Madea, who was given that nickname by Waymon, says through tears. “I miss Waymon every single day, but I’m blessed because God gave me 68 years with him.”
Waymon was born in Rayburn, Texas, the oldest of Madea’s seven children. When his mother would fix breakfast or dinner, he would pull up a chair and begin a two-person game with Brenda. She would bring over an empty dish, which he would fill with food, and she would place it back on the table.
He would continue to do little things around the house and assist his parents until he was hit by a car as a 9-year-old. When the vehicle hit him, it sent him into the air, which resulted in a second impact.
Madea was told her son had a fractured leg and skull and a broken collarbone that would prevent him from ever playing sports. Years later, Waymon was one of the first African-Americans to integrate the all-white Tarkington High School thanks to his academics and prowess as a forward in basketball and tight end in football.
At 19, Waymon decided he was going to enlist in the Marines. His father had opted for the Navy, while pretty much every other family member who went into the military committed to the Army.
When Waymon put it in his head to do something, he went at it with everything in him. To that end, he scored a 92 on his military entry exam, which he was told was the highest score the recruiters had seen.
“Well, that was until I scored a 94 in ROTC as a junior,” said Ronald Roberts, Waymon Roberts’ little brother.
Madea didn’t have the money to send her kids to college, which influenced Waymon Roberts’ decision to enlist. He served 30 years and retired in 1998 as a master gunnery sergeant.
While serving, he met the woman who would become his wife, Eiko, in Japan. The first time the family met her, Dave was still a lap baby. Waymon’s sister, Gwendolyn Phillips, told Eiko that she had to come with them when they went to a beauty supply store. She bought Eiko an Afro wig and took a picture of her as she held Dave over her knee.
“We couldn’t really communicate with one another, but we wanted her to know she was very much welcome in our family,” Brenda said.
In several interviews around the time of Dave’s hiring as manager of the Dodgers in 2015, Waymon spoke about how his family didn’t talk about race. Phillips’ exchange with Eiko is an example of what he meant.
Still, Waymon is the one who pulled his son aside to stress the significance of his being the first manager of color in Dodgers history. Dave would become the first Asian and second black skipper to win the World Series with victories in the final two games.
If any manager knows the art of a comeback, it’s Dave Roberts. This goes beyond his 2004 heroics with the Red Sox.
Madea hasn’t forgotten the time Waymon called her in tears because Dave had suffered a knee injury that required surgery and doctors told him that his son, who played football, basketball and baseball, wouldn’t be able to play sports again. But Dave eventually walked on to UCLA’s baseball team and finished his career as its all-time leader in steals.
In 2011, Dave beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and returned to his job as the San Diego Padres’ first-base coach.
This season, the 45-year-old sophomore manager returned to the Dodgers just two days after losing his biggest fan, his father, and guided the team to more than 100 regular-season wins, a 7-1 postseason record going into the World Series and the team’s first appearance in the World Series since it won it in 1988.
What’s a 3-2 deficit to someone who has overcome all of that?
“It’s no coincidence that it’s the Astros and Dodgers, and this series brought us together as a union. God allowed us to be together in this time and space,” Dennis said.
Said Madea: “Dave’s favorite verse from the Bible is [Philippians 4:13]: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
“It would mean everything [for Dave Roberts to win the World Series]. That would be great. Dave works so hard, he deserves it.”