By John Philip Wyllie
Growing up on both sides of the border, Tijuana native and former Montgomery High School 1994 CIF Player of the Year Oscar Robles dreamed back then of one day playing professional baseball. When the three-time All-Metro star was drafted by the Houston Astros following his senior year, local pundits expected to see him regularly soon after in Jack Murphy Stadium making the Padres miserable. But after four seasons of minor league baseball in this country without receiving that long awaited call, Robles headed south and began a successful career in Mexico. Playing first with the Oaxaca Warriors and later with the Mexico City Red Devils, Robles hit for an impressive .334 career average in his five years of Mexican League baseball.
“He’s the second (former) Montgomery High School player to make it to the Major Leagues (behind the Cubs Sergio Mitre),” said long-time Aztec coach, Manny Hermosillo, “and I am very proud of that. I’m glad he is getting his chance with the Dodgers.”
“Playing here is very special to me,” Robles said prior to Tuesday night’s 2-1 Petco Park Padres victory of the Dodgers. “I’ve been dreaming about playing on a Major League level here for a long time. I’m glad to be here, but I need to keep working hard (in order to) stay here all season.”
An injury to regular third baseman Jose Valentin provided Robles, a utility infielder, his opportunity, but so far, he has been used sparingly behind shortstop, Cesar Izturis, second baseman, Jeff Kent and current third baseman, Antonio Perez.
“You have to work hard everyday and not lose your love of the game. I think that is the key to why I am here right now.”
After twice previously being called into the Dodgers spring training camp and failing to make the roster, Robles was determined back in March that 2005 would be his year.
“I prepared very hard this spring and the Dodgers called me into their big league camp,” recalled Robles, who turned 29 in April. He enjoyed a spectacular spring hitting .438 in Florida, but when the opening day roster was posted, he was not on it. Disappointed, he returned to Mexico City and had to wait until May 9 to get that magical phone call.
“Right now, I’m just glad to be on the roster and I am trying to enjoy it,” he said. Part of the fun has been coming back home to play for the first time in San Diego as a Major Leaguer.
“I saw (former coach, Manny Hermosillo) here last night at the stadium. He was a great guy and he always tried to teach me the right way to play the game. He helped me a lot when I was there. I also had about 30 or 35 friends and family members here from Tijuana last night and they might be here again tonight. I just hope I get a chance to play.” Robles was denied that chance in games one and two of this series. (Games three and four were completed after deadline).
Despite growing up in the San Diego area, Robles was more of a Dodgers fan as a kid. Like many Hispanic children of the 1980s he idolized Dodgers pitcher and current broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela. Now he is adjusting to the adulation and autograph signing that comes with being a Major League player.
“I still live in Tijuana in the off-season and I try to get out to the little league fields down there to help out my friends,” Robles said. When his former team, the Montgomery High Aztecs light up the scoreboard like they so often do, they do it on the scoreboard that Robles provided them in 1994.
Hermosillo, one of the winningest coaches in San Diego County, is still churning out quality players. His latest star, 2005 graduate Roman Pena, was recently selected by the Cleveland Indians in the ninth round of the 2005 MLB player draft.