What a blessing it was to grow up in a small town in Tennessee where the entire community embraced the sport of baseball. My coaches were tough and old school but positive. They drilled fundamentals into us at every practice.
John Whited was my outstanding high school coach who went on to be the head coach at the University of Tennessee. He taught us to compete with everything we could give to the final pitch of every game. Clyde Starrette, whose brother Herm was a major league pitching coach, threw great batting practice and taught us to hit the ball where it was pitched. Jim Herbert, a young engineer at Eastman Kodak who had pitched at Tennessee, worked with all the pitchers in the community. My father, Edd Roberts who never played on a baseball team in his life but had a love for the game, gave many youth the opportunity to play. He raised the money for equipment and travel expenses. All of us were so fortunate to have the coaching, leadership, and guidance of these gentlemen throughout our youth and high school years.
My father gave me a set of catcher’s gear when I was nine years old because we had no catchers on the team. After that, I spent my entire playing career behind the plate. Throughout my school years there were many excellent pitchers in the area. The hardest thrower was a left-hander by the name of Larry Kiser. His nickname was “Lurch” from the character on the television show “The Munsters.” Larry was a senior in high school when I was a junior. He was being recruited by several major universities in the southeast. Since he was being scouted I was fortunate that a few also watched the catcher behind the plate who caught the fastballs, blocked most of the big curve balls in the dirt, hustled, sprayed a few singles and stole some bases.
I received more scholarship opportunities than I would have if coaches had not been traveling to watch Larry pitch. Both of us signed at the UNC-Chapel Hill. Larry enrolled in the fall of 1967 and I entered the following year.
When I completed my playing career at UNC, I was drafted in the forty fourth round by the Kansas City Royals. After playing two full seasons in minor league baseball, I asked for my release so I could return to UNC to study for my Masters of Arts in Teaching. My dram was to become a college coach.
Two years later at 26 years of age, I was named the Designed Head Coach at UNC to take over for Walt Rabb who would be retiring the next year. I spent 23 years as the head coach at UNC with two trips to Omaha and the College World Series, 5 ACC championships, and the opportunity to coach many future major league players. Some of these players were Walt Weiss, 1989 American League Rookie of the Year, B.J. Surhoff, the first person selected in the 1985 amateur draft who went on to accumulate over 2300 hits, Scott Bradley was the second pick of the New York Yankees and my son, Brian, a first round pick in 1999 and now a two time all-star second baseman with the Baltimore Orioles. Also, I coached one year at UNC-Asheville and have been the head coach at Wareham of the Cape Cod Summer Baseball League on two different occasions. Currently, I am the head coach of the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape League.
Why should you read this book about my baseball experiences, how I learned an aggressive base stealing game as a young player and have taught it for years as a coach, and believe more players of all ages should hustle and show a greater respect for the game? Because, if you have a desire to learn new ways to improve your game or help others improve theirs I am giving you encouragement and some new practice ideas. If you like baseball stories you will find this interesting. If you just have a passion for the game, as I do, you will be motivated to become an improved player or coach.
I have spent most of my life around or on a baseball field. I believed in myself as a player and played the game all out. I believe in myself as a teacher of the game and work enthusiastically to help young players improve. This interest and love of the game has fueled my passion for writing this book.
“BELIEF FUELS PASSION, AND. . . . . . . PASSION RARELY FAILS”
“Before I had the privilege of playing for Coach Roberts, I felt that stealing bases was simply about speed and reaction time, a mistake that many runners make. Coach Roberts taught us that base stealers use not only their athletic gifts, but their minds and systematic calculations to steal bases. As a runner converted into a true base stealer, I went from relying solely on athleticism to knowing the situation, understanding the mind-set of a pitcher, calculating my leads, improving my jumps and SYSTEMATICALLY stealing bases. His system teaches runners to simply know when you do or do not have the base stolen, as opposed to just outrunning the baseball. That type of knowledge is a powerful offensive tool.
Assistant Baseball Coach, United States Naval Academy,
and former player of Coach Roberts at UNC Asheville