TAMPA — Since his days at Robinson High, Brad Roberts told his uncle he wanted to play for him.
But, every time, University of Tampa baseball coach Joe Urso resisted. Urso was close with his nephew, who was a talented player, but thought coaching a relative could be a tough balancing act.
Turns out, family matters finally brought the two together.
Roberts, 22, realizing last year he'd soon become a father, pursued a transfer to Tampa from Florida Gulf Coast, hoping a homecoming would make it easier to tackle the balancing act of school, baseball, and raising a child with his girlfriend, Ashlee.
The move couldn't have worked out better, with Roberts — a smooth-swinging first baseman — helping lead the second-seeded Spartans into the NCAA Division II South Region today at UT with a first-round matchup against Florida Tech at 1:15. Roberts' 8-month-old son, Bradley Joseph Jr., will likely be in his usual spot in the front row behind the backstop, standing on Ashlee's lap, while dad tries to bring his uncle closer to his third national championship ring.
"It's been an awesome experience," Roberts said. "Being back home is one of the best things, near my family, all my aunts and uncles in the stands, and playing for (Urso) is fun."
Roberts, a two-time Robinson High team MVP, spent two years at Pasco-Hernando Community College before a breakout season at Florida Gulf Coast, where he hit .326 with 22 multi-hit games and 16 multi-RBI games. It was then when Urso knew Roberts had what it took to play for the Spartans. When Ashlee became pregnant, a reunion was set in motion.
"When he came to me, I said, 'Well, let's bring you home, where you can take care of your responsibilities, graduate and help us win a national title,' " Urso said. "And he's done that. He's walked at graduation, and he's done really well for us — he's been one of our key guys."
On the field, Urso admits he's harder on Roberts than he is on other players, because he's family. Off the field, Roberts juggles several responsibilities, from his criminology classes, to 3-4 a.m. baby wakeup calls, to hitting .355 (with 41 RBIs).
He said having several family members in the area has helped tremendously.
"It was a little rough at first, but it's made me a better person," Roberts said. "It makes me more responsible. I could be in the worst mood ever, and I look at him and he's smiling, everything changes on a dime."
The thought of sharing a potential national championship with his son, and uncle, Roberts says, could be a special memory he'd never forget. And with Ashlee a former softball standout at PHCC, the bloodlines may bring Brad Jr. to baseball as well.
"There's no choice; he's going to be a stud," quipped Ashlee, 21. "He's got it from both sides, so he's going to be a little baseball player. … He'll be playing for Uncle Joe."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.