CHICAGO — Want to stump your know-it-all boss or neighbor with a good baseball question?

Just ask him how many Japanese are on the Los Angeles Dodgers. Chances are he will say two: Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideo Nomo.

News photoDave Roberts poses with Kazuhisa Ishii.

That’s when you’ll inform him that he’s — ahem — wrong!

The correct answer is two . . . and a half: Ishii, Nomo and Dave Roberts.

Wondering what the catch is? Well, there isn’t one. Roberts, who has played 25 games in center field for the Dodgers this season, is half Japanese.

“My mom is Japanese and she was born and raised in Okinawa,” Roberts said after a road victory against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, April 28. “My dad was in the U.S. Marine Corps for 30 years and that’s where he met my mom. I was born in Okinawa and lived there for a few months after I was born. So I’m half Japanese and half American.”

Before Roberts’ first birthday, his family moved to Camp Pendleton (near San Diego). His African-American father is now retired but his mother still works at the base commissary.

Japanese was spoken occasionally in the Roberts’ household when Dave was a child.

“That’s why I understand the language a little bit,” he said. “I definitely love being Japanese and going back to Japan and visiting. I’ve been out to visit my brother-in-law a few times. He lives right outside of Tokyo.”

So, do the Shibuya girls hound Roberts for autographs when he’s in town?

“Nah, I pretty much go unnoticed over there,” he said. “I just lay low, sight see and visit my family. But I love the people there and think it’s awesome that more and more Japanese guys are coming over here to play.”

The 29-year-old has developed a special relationship with Ishii and Nomo.

“There definitely is a little bit of a bond between us because we have something in common,” he said. “I’m half Japanese and I think they can relate to me more. They feel a little more open to talk to me.”

Roberts, who is an American citizen, has a deep appreciation for the Japanese culture. However, he believes there is such a thing as being too nice.

“If Ishii has a bad inning or a bad outing, he’s so apologetic to his teammates,” the soft-spoken Roberts said. “That’s something we don’t expect and don’t need. But that just shows how much he cares about this team and not his own stats. Ishii has so much character.”

The apologies don’t flow as freely from Nomo’s mouth anymore.

“Most people don’t realize that Hideo has played more in the big leagues than he has in Japan,” Roberts said. “So he’s not as apologetic as Ishii.”

Roberts broke into the majors in 1999 with the Cleveland Indians but played sparingly in his three years there. The trade to Los Angeles in the offseason was a dream come true — because he played baseball at UCLA.

The 5-foot-10 (178-cm) leadoff hitter has become an integral part of the Dodgers’ offense this season. Through May 7, he had eight steals and an impressive .398 on-base percentage. He is probably the team’s fastest player and has never made an error in 100 career major-league games.

On Opening Day, the speedster had a single, double, two RBIs and a stolen base. The performance had the Dodgers’ front office salivating. His batting average was an even .300 through May 7.

Would Roberts ever consider playing pro ball in Japan? It wouldn’t be his first taste of “baseboru.”

“We went to Game 6 of the Japan Series in ’98 when the Yokohama BayStars won it and (current Seattle Mariners stopper Kazuhiro) Sasaki closed the game out. The tickets were a wedding gift from my brother-in-law. My wife and I sat right behind home plate. Couldn’t have enjoyed it more.”

Would Roberts seriously consider someday becoming the first half-Japanese ballplayer to go from the majors to the Japan Leagues?

“Obviously my dream is playing major-league ball, but if the opportunity ever came up, I’d do it,” he said. “I have nothing against going over there and playing baseball. They love the game so much.”

They’ll love it even more when they hear about Roberts’ half of the story.

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