SARASOTA, Fla. - At various points during today’s workout, Brian Roberts joked with teammates, joked with reporters, looked like a guy who was having more fun than anyone else.
He’s the longest-tenured Oriole, but he’s feeling like a kid again.
Roberts, 35, is full-go at spring training, which included today’s batting practice session. No concussion symptoms, no pain in his hip, no restrictions following sports hernia surgery in December.
“Feels nice to be one of the guys and start off on a good note for the first time in a couple of years. It’s good,” Roberts said today while standing at his locker.
“Drama-free is always good. We’ll try to keep it that way the best we can. I’m just kind of going out there and try to have fun and try to bring something positive to what’s going on here and hopefully be a good addition.”
It may sound strange that the longest-tenured Oriole views himself as an “addition,” but he’s been limited to 115 games over the past three seasons, never exceeding 59. He showed up at camp this week fully expecting to be the starting second baseman on opening day.
“I still feel like, barring anything else - I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone - but I still feel like I’m our best option,” he said. “I still feel like I can provide a lot to this team. I still feel like the guys in this room want me out there and know I can provide something. That’s the way I approach it. I approach it every day that I’m going to be the second baseman until they tell me something else.”
Manager Buck Showalter isn’t going to steer Roberts away from that goal.
“Coming into this spring, I was planning on Robby being able of doing what he’s capable of doing,” Showalter said. “If he’s healthy, I expect him to do that for us. He’d be the first to tell you, some of those challenges he’s had, I don’t think he’s planning on anything but being healthy and being our second baseman. I respect that. I know that’s how he came in here. He wants to get us a reminder of how good a player he is and what a contributor he is for us.
“There are some pieces in his life, as far as where he is. He’s got a lot of things that were a challenge. There are some really good things that are going on in his life right now that have been a challenge. I never say never about hitting the bottom, but there are just a lot of arrows pointing up for him. He’s had a great off-season, done things that he hasn’t done in a long time, even in the off-season, because he hasn’t had to. He’s said to me that he hasn’t been physically or really mostly mentally where he is right now in a long time.
“It was tough for Brian last year. We talked about it a few times the last month of the season, reiterating how much I wanted him to be with us and be around everything. He contributed, watching some different tapes and some different stuff. You see him in the background whether it be on the field after a game or in the dugout. He was engaged. He was connected. He never lost that. I can’t tell you how many of us could honestly say that we wouldn’t have maybe mailed it in.”
Roberts, whose wife, Diana, is expecting their first child, isn’t backing off a full workload this spring.
“I was always doing a lot to prepare. It just may not have been tons and tons of baseball stuff before now,” he said. “This year, I tried to concentrate as much as I could on baseball and tried to get into as best of form as possible when it comes to that aspect coming in. I’m definitely farther along when it comes to that part of it, even though I haven’t played a lot. I feel like I’m in a really good spot baseball-wise, especially considering what’s transpired the last couple of years.
“I just need to play. That’s going to be the biggest thing, to just get out there. I’m excited to have a full spring. I told Buck, ‘I want to play, I want to play a lot.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to kill you,’ but I said, ‘I want to play.’ I want to get game action. That’s the only way to get where you want to be physically and mentally and emotionally, to get out there and play and have some success and feel confident in your body and everything else that’s going on. I think that’s the biggest thing I’m going to continue to work on at this point, to just play games.”
Roberts is one of the guys who will benefit from an extended spring training caused by the World Baseball Classic.
“I’m not complaining,” he said, grinning. “I’m probably one of the few guys who’s not complaining about the extra seven games. Obviously, I’m not going to play all of them, but I want as many at-bats as I can get and I think the extra time is certainly going to be beneficial for myself.”