Which Brian Roberts Will Return?
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
It's not exactly a death-defying act, but the notion of Brian Roberts reappearing in an Orioles uniform is magical nonetheless -- especially if the old Roberts is somewhere inside the No. 1 jersey he'll put on if, as anticipated, he plays in the first game of the Orioles' series against the Pirates.
It's been more than a full calendar year since Roberts' last time in an Orioles lineup -- May 16, 2011, to be exact. If that were the extent of Roberts' exodus from Birdland, the question of who actually will be returning wouldn't seem nearly so compelling.
But the Roberts that will return this time around is just four months shy of his 35th birthday. That's hardly ancient in baseball terms, but it's not a great age to be restarting a career that was successful in great part because of speed. Roberts has not been a full-time, without-question starter in the lineup since 2009.
He played in 39 games last season and 59 games in 2010. Before his injury woes, Roberts, an All-Star in 2005 and '07, was among the best leadoff men in the majors. From 2003-09, Roberts' average season included a .288 batting average, a .361 on-base percentage, 96 runs, 11 home runs, 59 RBIs and 34 stolen bases.
Roberts' season in '09 produced his first-ever Most Valuable Oriole Award, voted on by the local media. But as 2010 approached, he was troubled by back issues all spring, associated with a herniated disc. Taking great precautions to be ready for the regular season, Roberts gathered himself and played in the first four games of the 2010 season, but then strained his abdominal muscle and missed close to 100 games.
He returned July 23, shortly before Buck Showalter was hired as manager. Roberts played regularly throughout the remainder of the season, until he missed the final six games of the season, because of headaches caused by concussion symptoms, which came about after he hit himself in the helmet with a bat after striking out.
It was thought that the full offseason would provide the necessary rest and serve as the elixir for what ailed Roberts. But again, his workload was minimal in 2011's spring training. Yet, he was able to get back on his feet in time to start the season, but after that date of May 16, when he was injured sliding headfirst into first base, Roberts did not play again in 2011.
As the 2011 season ended and fall turned into winter, the rumors swirled that Roberts would never play again, and after such a long time, the fans and media alike were almost tired of the total conjecture of the story. He did get down to Sarasota, Fla., and worked privately and at his own pace. But, when the 2012 season began, the most anyone saw Roberts do during a game was munch sunflower seeds next to manager Buck Showalter in the dugout.
Now, the Orioles are apparently on the verge of bringing Roberts back, after just 14 games of rehab in Bowie and Norfolk. The numbers during 14 games hardly offer a large enough sample to make clear any real determination of what percentage of the old Roberts will return. He had just 10 hits during 42 at bats. Most promising were that six of his 10 hits were extra-base hits (one home run and five doubles). Also on the promising side is the seven walks against just eight strikeouts -- a sign he isn't overmatched or not seeing the ball well enough.
If, and that still seems an awfully big two-letter word, this comeback cranks up to the next level, the key word should be patience. More than likely, he won't be the same exact player that left a couple years back … yet, anywhere more than 80 percent of that Roberts will be a welcome addition to the Orioles lineup.
That he is back at all is cause for Orioles fans to stand up and cheer.
Posted June 12, 2012