Roberts starting to realize dream with Scrappers

Baseball is to southern California as potato farming is to southern Idaho. It’s the peaches of Georgia, the maple syrup of Vermont and the Italian cuisine of northeast Ohio.

Growing up, James Roberts’ diet consisted of baseball.

The Cupertino, Calif. native has played his entire life and really zoned in on the game when he was 15.

“I played some basketball in high school,” said Roberts, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers starting shortstop. “But that’s when I really put my whole focus on baseball and realized I could make a profession with it.

“Since then, I’ve just been chasing a dream and striving to make a living with baseball.”

Roberts was the 15th round pick (441st overall) in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of Archbishop Mitty High School as a 42nd round pick in 2010, but opted to attend the University of Southern California.

“It was a great school,” Roberts said. “I really liked it there and it left a good impression on me. I definitely learned to appreciate the things I had out there now that I’m here.”

Like the beaches, palm trees, scantily clad women and In-N-Out Burger.

“But mostly the weather,” Roberts said. “You couldn’t beat the warm temperatures out there. But I’m happy here playing baseball.”

He was the 16th shortstop drafted out of USC and the sixth former Trojan drafted by the Cleveland Indians. He’s played on the left side of the infield for most of his career and led the team with a .320 batting average and 38 RBIs in his junior season.

Those numbers speak for themselves, but trying to stand out from the crowd in a baseball-crazed state is also a challenge. Though it’s not as hard than one might think.

“If anything, it’s easier,” Roberts said. “Just with so many opportunities to get exposure from scouts. There’s lots of good teams who get a ton of attention.

“Maybe if you’re in a small town in a midwestern state, you can’t quite get as noticed.”

Jamestown Jammers third baseman Adam Landecker was a college teammate with Roberts and four members of the Auburn Doubledays grew up in his same region of California.

Roberts was chosen to play in a high school All-Star game and was honored on some other travel league lists. He kept the accolades coming as a member of the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. Roberts, and four other Mahoning Valley players represented the American League in Norwich, Conn.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I really didn’t expect them to go all out on the game, the promotions and all the other events. They really did a good job of making us feel like big leaguers.

“It was definitely not quite the same as those little games I played in before. Just getting to wear an American League top and be treated like a major leaguer is quite the experience.”

Roberts, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-handed hitter is batting .256 with 14 RBIs.