Roberts recalls Wells' gift, influence

Roberts fondly recalls outfield debut

PHILADELPHIA -- It's no longer as scary.

But as he readied to start in left field against the Phillies on Tuesday, D-backs reserve Ryan Roberts -- a lifelong infielder -- still carries a memento of when he was first thrust into that unfamiliar role.

Roberts will be using Vernon Wells' glove.

After a cup of coffee playing second base for the Blue Jays in 2006, Roberts was recalled by Toronto in '07. He had not seen a single Minor League inning in the outfield and did not even own an outfielder's mitt. Then one day, the lineup card told him he would be playing left.

"I'm just like, 'Are you [kidding] me?" Roberts said. "So I'm like, 'Hey, uh, Vernon, you got an old glove I can use?'"

Toronto's All-Star center fielder obliged and told Roberts to keep it, too.

"Vernon's my boy, dude," said Roberts, who is hitting .304 (21-for-69) with five homers and nine RBIs since being recalled on July 20. "It's a great glove."

After that fateful spring day, Roberts has left the infield dirt only sparingly. He played the outfield six times in the Minors in 2007 and none in '08. Tuesday will be the 28-year-old's fifth start in left for the D-backs. He has primarily seen action at second (19 starts) and third (15 starts) after winning the final roster spot out of Spring Training.

Still, Roberts has worked hard over the years on his outfield technique, seeking help from various coaches and players alike. And with Eric Byrnes (left hand fracture) and Justin Upton (strained right oblique) on the disabled list and Chris Young optioned to Triple-A Reno, Roberts is getting another opportunity to display his versatility.

"I actually got to learn from people who know that they're talking about, and that helps," Roberts said.

He likened it to learning pitching from ace Dan Haren, or infield positioning from shortstop Stephen Drew: "You just mirror what you're capable of doing to what they do."

Wells was particularly influential. The pair played against each other in high school -- in 1997, Wells gunned down Roberts trying to score the tying run in the ninth inning -- and live 10 minutes apart in the offseason. In the '07-'08 winter, they hit and worked out together.

Roberts just likes observing his friend.

"You watch that guy, he never has to dive -- he runs everything down," Roberts said. "He just kind of [has] different angles to take to get to the balls."

Not that Roberts would mind having to dive.

In fact, while some players claim they ignore ESPN, Roberts is acutely aware of what's on "Baseball Tonight."

"In my mind, wherever I am, I want to make a Web Gem. That's the ultimate goal," he said. "I want to make a No. 1 play on Web Gems. That's constantly running through my mind. Every ball hit -- can I dive for this? Can I jump the wall? What can I do to make a No. 1 play? Seriously. I've never done it. The highest I got was No. 3."

He'll have another chance in Citizens Bank Park's outfield Tuesday. And if he does make the top spot, he'll have Wells' glove to thank.

David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.