By John Philip Wyllie
After six seasons in the Mexican League primarily with Diablos Rojos of Mexico City, former Montgomery High School CIF Player of the Year Oscar Robles made his MLB debut with the Dodgers two seasons ago. Acquired in the off-season by the Padres, the 31-year old utility infielder is delighted to be playing just a few miles from his home in Tijuana.
“When I was a young kid I used to watch the Padres on TV. Now I am on the Padres, so it is like a dream come true. I am just enjoying my time here and trying to take advantage of the opportunity while trying to help the team,” Robles said prior to Monday night’s 7-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
In his 11 appearances so far this year, the versatile Robles has filled in at second, shortstop and third. He can also handle first base whenever Padres star, Adrian Gonzalez needs a rest. Perhaps his most memorable play as a Padre was his perfectly executed bunt on a suicide squeeze play against the Nationals earlier this month, but his diving stop at second base against the same team also made the Padres highlight reel.
Hitting well above .300, Robles terrorized Mexican League pitchers throughout his long stint in Mexico City. On this side of the border he has not done nearly as well. Robles is currently 4 for 15 with two RBIs and a .267 average.
“The pitchers here don’t (often) miss their location. If they want to throw it outside they throw it outside. If they want to throw it inside they throw it inside. They also throw harder than the Mexican pitchers,” he said.
Having bounced back and forth between Triple A and the majors Robles knows that the key to extending his Major League career is in his hitting. He works long and hard with Padres batting coach, Merv Rettenmund trying to hone his skills.
“He has been working with me helping me to hit to the (opposite field), to make good contact, hit the ball harder and to hit it up the middle. He knows the type of hitter that I am, so he is just helping me to make good contact and put the ball in play.”
Before Robles arrived in San Diego he already had one friend on the team, Adrian Gonzalez.
“We’ve known each other since we were kids and our families have always been close, so it is fun to be playing together on this level,” he said. The two of them often compare notes on the pitchers that they are facing. Gonzalez and Robles still play in Mexico during the winter season.
“I always take a month off (following the MLB season) and then play in Mexico beginning in November. If you want to play on this level you have to stay sharp all year long. Playing down there gives you an advantage. When spring training comes along you are almost ready to go.”
While Mexico produces its far share of talent Mexican players with MLB credentials are relatively rare. Robles believes that there are many Mexican players that could make the grade if only they had the opportunity that he has been given.
“I think the owners of the Mexican teams are asking for too much money to buy their contracts. I know a lot of players (currently) playing in Mexico could play here if they had the chance, but the owners hold the key.”