Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Sophomore shortstop James Roberts (pictured below by collegebaseballdaily.com) is well aware of what it means to play for the USC baseball program.
He knows of the storied past (12 National Championships, 91 First Team All-Americans, 21 College World Series appearances and 100 Major League players) and also of the team's recent run of futility (no Regional appearances since 2005).
But entering Friday night's 2012 season opener against Jacksonville at Dedeaux Field, the young Trojan leader has his mind on one thing.
"Today will always be the most important day for us," Roberts said. "We know we have a lot to live up to playing here at USC, but our focus should never change. Looking back at yesterday or worrying about tomorrow won't help us this season."
While the Trojans have several veterans (Andrew Triggs, Kevin Roundtree, Alex Sherrod and Brandon Garcia) on their roster, all eyes are on Roberts to help lead a once dominant program back to national prominence. During his first year at Troy, Roberts started all 56 games at shortstop (.949 fielding percentage) and hit .274 with one home run and 15 RBIs.
"He's not a captain, but he's definitely a leader for us," said manager Frank Cruz. "There's no question his experience last year will be huge for his development this year. But already, James [Roberts] is very proficient in all aspects of the game. Whether it's fielding, throwing, getting a timely hit or dropping down a bunt, he does it all. On top of that, he really understands the game and we're hoping that rubs off on his teammates."
This season, Cruz is trying to reinvigorate the Trojans' clubhouse with a winning mentality. And this might be where Roberts' role is most felt during his second season.
Dating back to his high school career, the six-foot, 170-pound infielder has always been accustomed to winning at the highest level. In 2010, Roberts (pictured far right by Easton Baseball) was named the West Catholic League Player of the Year, after leading Archbishop Mitty to a national championship.
"In order to create a winning culture, you have to have guys who have won or who want to win," said Roberts. "I am not concerned with individual goals. I just want to win. My role as a leader on this team has nothing to do with what position I play. It's about my experience both last year and in high school. It's my job to help the younger guys, who have a lot of raw talent, tune things up going into the season."
While Roberts has already received comparisons to former USC shortstops Grant Green and Gabe Alvarez (currently coaching on Cruz's staff), the sophomore has made it a point not to let outside talk get in the way of his team's ultimate goals. He cautions all who choose to label him and his teammates to leave the talking up to the Trojans on the field in 2012.
"I am not concerned with what's said about us," said Roberts. "It's not about us getting back to a place other people outside of this program want us to be at. There is a lot of history here and wearing these colors are not like wearing any other colors across the country, but it's about right now with this team. I think we are definitely headed in the right direction."