Padres first base coach Dave Roberts is famous for sparking one of the most dramatic rallies in Major League Baseball history.
His ninth-inning stolen base in the 2004 playoffs helped the Boston Red Sox stave off elimination and propelled the team to eight straight wins, culminating in its first World Series championship in 86 years.
Yet Roberts says he has achieved his biggest comeback away from the diamond.
“I’ll take beating cancer over any World Series or big stolen base,” says Roberts, a Padres outfielder from 2005-2006.
“Baseball is part of me, something I did. But my fight against cancer was real. It was about who I am as a husband, as a father and all the support I had. In the end, it was a good thing for my kids to see, a real life lesson.”
Roberts was starting his first Spring Training as a Padres special assistant in 2010 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that develops within the body’s immune system.
Dr. Vicario was inspired by Roberts’ resolve and selflessness as a patient.
“He never once asked ‘why me,’ but was more concerned with (wife) Tricia, (son) Cole and (daughter) Emmerson,” Dr. Vicario says. “Dave took things day by day, flowing through the challenges with strength, dignity and determination.”
Despite the debilitating effects of chemotherapy, Roberts returned to Spring Training in 2010 to coach the running game and outfield play.
“I had to pick my spots between treatments, when I was feeling OK,” says Roberts. “It was good to take my mind off the treatments and I think it gave our players a different perspective, too.”
Under Roberts’ tutelage, the Padres have improved on the base paths. The team logged 124 stolen bases in 2010 — a 33-percent increase from 2009 — and now ranks among the league leaders in steals.
Roberts credits family, friends and caregivers for his recovery.
“Dr. Vicario was my co-MVP, along with my wife,” says Roberts, whose follow-up tests have shown no signs of cancer. “He told us we’d get through this chapter and that he’d be there with us every step of the way.”