Brian Roberts is lifting weights, running and hitting off a tee in Sarasota. He doesn’t really think about his surgically repaired hip, and the concussion symptoms are forgotten unless he’s asked about them.
Starting at second base on opening day? That’s the plan. Playing beyond 2013? Ditto. And, yes, Roberts will attend FanFest on Jan. 19 at the Baltimore Convention Center.
To say it’s all good right now would be an understatement. The key is to maintain it.
“I’m doing as well as I’ve done in the last three years,” Roberts, 35, said yesterday in a phone interview. “I’m pretty much doing everything. Health-wise, I’m probably ahead of where I’d normally be in the offseason for the first time in a long time.”
Roberts was limited to 17 games this year before undergoing surgery in early August to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. He hit .182/.233/.182 with five RBIs in 66 at-bats.
“I’ve been going at it ever since the surgery,” he said. “The first month was slow rehab stuff. Once I hit the eight-week mark at the end of September, I started to do a lot more. I’ve been cleared pretty much of any restrictions at this point. Now I’m in my normal offseason training program. And I’m doing more (baseball) stuff now. Not having been able to play as much in the past few years, I’m hitting earlier and doing more baseball stuff than I did in the past to be ahead of the curve.”
So to speak.
“My hip feels great,” Roberts continued. “I’m doing everything that I normally would be doing. I don’t even really think about it much anymore. And as time continues to go by and it gets better and better, I think about it less and less now.”
The concussion symptoms that prevented him from attending FanFest last winter and threatened to end his career finally have subsided, leaving him to focus exclusively on his hip and regaining his starting job.
“It’s probably the first time, I’d say, since May 16, 2011 that I don’t really think about it anymore,” Roberts said. “In the midst of last year, I still had some times where I struggled with some things. And probably, hindsight being 20-20, if you go too fast ... But I was dying to get back on the field. And the extra time off was good for that, as well. I think it can do nothing but help when you have more time to heal.
“I continue to work on my rehab and therapy for that and will continue to do it. But this is definitely the best that I’ve felt with that in over a year.”
Roberts traveled with the team in the postseason. He dressed at a locker. He was part of the club, but also detached. It was a tough pill to swallow, considering that Roberts hadn’t been on a winner since breaking into the majors in 2001.
Roberts thought about putting off the surgery and trying to play through the pain, but he wouldn’t be at this stage of his recovery and most likely would have been shut down at some point before the end of the regular season.
“You sit there and watch the games and, yeah, you think in the back of your mind, ‘Man, maybe if I had tried a little bit longer ...’ But at the same time, I was told by the best surgeon in the world that it needed to be done one way or the other, especially for prolonging my career,” Roberts said.
“If I want to be healthy and I want to play beyond (next) year, it was probably the best move to make moving forward. We all believe that we’ll be as good, if not better, next year and have the same opportunity. All those things weighed into my decision.”
Was it harder or easier to be around the team as it reached the postseason for the first time in 15 years?
“Some of both,” he replied. “It was incredible to be part of it and see the atmosphere. I always said my career would be complete whether I played in a playoff game or not. It wasn’t going to make or break the blessings that I’ve had in my career. But at the same time, I always wanted to experience it and see what it was like and do it in an Orioles uniform, and I was fortunate enough to put the uniform on and see what Camden Yards was like. The atmosphere was amazing. It makes you hungrier and hungrier to get back there, and it sits in the back of my mind every day when I go to the stadium (in Sarasota).”
The Orioles claimed second baseman Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Twins, and they still have Ryan Flaherty, Robert Andino and Omar Quintanilla on the roster. Roberts won’t be handed the job this far from the reporting date for position players.
“I don’t think too much about that stuff,” Roberts said. “I try to pay attention and know what is going on, but obviously as a team, you have to make moves to secure your organization, no matter what happens. And I understand that, unfortunately, I haven’t been able perform the way any of us would like the last few years. I understand they have to have that covered, but I have confidence in my own ability, and if I’m healthy, my ability will speak for itself once I’m on the field.”
Roberts has one year and $10 million remaining on his contract. He’s not looking too far down the road - the concussion symptoms forced him to reduce his focus to each individual day - but he’s not ready to consider retirement.
“I’ll still be 35 at the end of next year,” he said. “I don’t look too far in advance. None of us know what God has in store for our lives beyond today, but I want to play and be healthy in 2013. And I’m more motivated for that than ever given what I’ve been through the last two years. If I do what I need to do and am healthy, the years after that will take care of themselves.
“In an ideal world, I’d love to be playing beyond next year.”
Roberts’ shortened focus has him geared to be playing on opening day. He’s been limited to 115 games the past three seasons. But for the first time in a while, he’s got good reason to be encouraged.
His head is clear, his body sound.
Now he’s just working to maintain it.
Notes: FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal confirmed this morning that Orioles third base coach DeMarlo Hale has interviewed for the Blue Jays’ bench coach position.
Toronto just hired John Gibbons as manager for the second time.
The Orioles have offered Hale a contract, but bench coach would be regarded as a promotion.
Also, the Rays announced their spring training schedule, and it includes the following dates against the Orioles:
March 2: Orioles at Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte)
March 14: Tampa Bay at Orioles
March 22: Orioles at Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte)
March 28: Tampa Bay at Orioles, 7:05 p.m.