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Stolen base hero Roberts to miss Friday's Fenway Park ceremony

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

Sorry, Boston.

Much as Dave Roberts would like to be there to help celebrate his legendary 2004 stolen base at the 100th anniversary celebration for Fenway Park on Friday, he's respectfully declined the organization's invitation because he feels like he shouldn't skip out on his coaching duties for the Padres, even for a day.

The Red Sox have applied the full-court press in their recruiting efforts, even phoning Roberts Thursday to see if they could talk him into taking a last-minute flight.

"To be a part of something like that would be amazing," Roberts told CBSSports.com of the impending Fenway Park celebration. "To be asked to come back is a huge honor.

"But right now, where we're at, I want to be with these guys."

In his second season as San Diego's first-base coach and with the Padres scuffling off to a 3-10 start, Roberts said he didn't even bother asking manager Bud Black or general manager Josh Byrnes about a leave of absence. Duty calls, and he feels he's where he should be.

"I understand they have a great vision," Roberts said regarding what have been top-secret plans on how the Red Sox will orchestrate Friday's ceremony. "It's good for the game and it's good for the fans, what they're trying to put together.

"The more I think about it, the more it overwhelms me that I'm part of something so special."

Baseball historians and fans unanimously rank Roberts' swipe of second in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the '04 American League Championship Series as one of the handful of greatest moments in Fenway Park history. On the verge of being swept by the Yankees, Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, and manager Terry Francona sent Roberts in as a pinch-runner.

"I just remember the way the night was starting to script itself toward me getting an opportunity late in the game," Roberts said. "Knowing that if I got the opportunity, don't chicken out. Don't be afraid to fail."

Roberts drew three throw-overs from Rivera, and then broke for second on the first pitch to Bill Mueller. He beat the throw, Mueller struck a game-tying single and the Red Sox were on their way to the greatest comeback in their history.

Funny thing, too, just the other day when the Padres were playing the Dodgers, Los Angeles shortstop Dee Gordon told Roberts that he remembers watching Game 5 of that ALCS with his father, Tom "Flash" Gordon working in relief for the Yankees in the eighth inning when Roberts ran for Millar again.

"He told me he's never seen his dad so nervous," Roberts said, breaking into a grin. "Flash was lightning quick. That was cool to hear."

The Sox were trailing 4-3 in the eighth and, though there would be no theft here, Roberts did go first to third on Trot Nixon's single. He then scored the tying run on Jason Varitek's sacrifice fly. The Red Sox won Game 5 in 14 innings, 5-4.

Eight years later, he still gets flooded with fan mail referencing the Game 4 steal.

"Absolutely," he said. "Obviously, not the same amount as when I was a player. But every day, I come to the ballpark and see mail sitting on my chair."

Now 39, Roberts had a health scare a couple of years ago when he developed Hodgkins lymphoma. He beat it with several rounds of chemotherapy and, not coincidentally, that battle is one the thing that has him feeling most guilty about skipping the Fenway fete. Larry Lucchino, Red Sox president and CEO, was in touch with him often during that time.

"I've got my hair back and I feel as good as ever," Roberts said. "One tough thing, Larry was so good to me when I was going through my radiation treatment, I'd love to return the favor. That was the one thing pulling at me.

"But I'm here, and I want to stay with my guys."

 
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