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He Lets His Bat Do the Talking : Baseball: After a slow start, J.P. Roberge is flexing his might as an outfielder for USC.

April 15, 1993|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ARCADIA — Pitcher Tom Seaver is the only USC baseball player who has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he is not the only Trojan who can be found in Cooperstown, N.Y.

J.P. Roberge, a sophomore left fielder for the Trojans, made his way into baseball's hallowed hall in 1991 via the Senior Babe Ruth World Series. Roberge, an Arcadia resident, helped a San Gabriel Valley all-star team win the championship by batting .650. Roberge was named most valuable player of the tournament, an honor that put his name on a plaque in the same hallowed complex that honors the Bambino, Seaver and other baseball legends.

Roberge, however, is not likely to offer that bit of trivia in conversation. He prefers to let his performance speak for itself.

"I've always been very quiet," Roberge said. "(USC teammate) Mike Mancuso calls me Mute. That basically describes it. When it comes to baseball, I'm not much of a rah-rah guy. I don't talk a whole lot."

Roberge's statistics this season are not yet Hall of Fame caliber, but he has been instrumental in helping USC maintain its position atop the Pacific 10 Conference Southern Division. Roberge is the starting left fielder for the 11th-ranked Trojans, who play host to 10th-ranked Arizona State in a three-game conference series beginning Friday.

USC is in first place in the Southern Division with a 12-9 record. Arizona State is in second place at 10-8.

The 6-foot, 175-pound Roberge started slowly this season, but he has been productive during conference play. He is batting .296 with six home runs and 23 runs batted in, and has hits in 13 of the past 14 games.

The St. Francis High graduate is the latest in a line of Arcadia-grown Trojans that includes former major leaguers Steve Kemp and Dave Hostetler, and Mark Smith, the Baltimore Orioles' No. 1 draft choice in 1991.

"J.P. isn't a guy who jumps out at you because of some particular outstanding strength," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "His style of running is deceiving. He's so fluid and graceful, you don't realize he's moving as fast as he is.

"He doesn't have a great arm and he doesn't have a textbook-looking swing. But he puts the bat on the ball and gets the job done wherever we put him."

Roberge arrived at USC as a walk-on second baseman after missing most of his senior year at St. Francis because of a broken leg. His goal was to play as a freshman, but those hopes quickly faded when he began fall workouts.

"That group was loaded with ballplayers," Roberge said.

Indeed. In 1991, USC featured Smith and four other players that were drafted after the Pac-10 champion Trojans were eliminated from the West Regional of the playoffs.

Roberge redshirted and practiced his skills, but Gillespie said he could see that Roberge was discouraged.

"He considered leaving the program," Gillespie said. "But the way he distinguished himself over the summer, we really wanted him to come back. We were able to come up with some scholarship money and, luckily for us, he returned."

Last season, Roberge played 11 games at first base, then moved to second base full time. He batted .302 with six homers and 31 RBIs for a Trojan team that finished 28-26 and 13-17 in the Pac-10.

This season, the arrival of former Bishop Amat shortstop Gabe Alvarez forced Gillespie to move Lionel Hastings from short to second. Roberge played first base early in the season, but when outfielder Shon Malani became injured, Gillespie moved Roberge to left.

"This is the first time I have ever played the outfield," Roberge said. "Every fly ball is different. It's a new experience every time one is hit to me."

Roberge is hoping to draw on his experience in the Senior Babe Ruth World Series should USC advance to Omaha for its first College World Series appearance since 1978.

With former Glendora High standout Mike Collett apparently fully recovered from shoulder surgery, and reliever Dan Hubbs on pace to break the school record for saves, the Trojans have a capable pitching staff and the offensive potential to make a run at the national championship.

"We thought we would be doing even better than we are right now," Roberge said. "We have enough pitching to take us all the way if everyone steps up their game."

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