BRADENTON, Fla. - Second baseman Brian Roberts remains convinced that he will be in the opening day lineup on April 2, his body holding up under every test this spring.
“Everything’s been great,” he said this morning. “It’s been nice to get out, play and just kind of be normal again and be like everybody else. We’re having a good time and everybody seems to be playing well. We think that things are going in the right direction for everybody at this point.”
Roberts is the one under the microscope after being limited to 115 games the past three seasons.
“If I was ready on Feb. 24, I hope I’ll be ready on April 2,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’m excited. Buck (Showalter) would probably tell you I’ve been champing at the bit, in his ear. I want to play. It’s been hard to be held back almost. When you haven’t played in so long, it’s ... I enjoy getting my work in on the days when I don’t play, but I enjoy the game more than I enjoy the staying back and working. I’ve been back working for a long time, but I know that it’s a long season and we’re trying to take the approach that will have me ready to play.”
The concussion symptoms are gone, and Roberts doesn’t foresee any problems diving or sliding. Neither do his doctors.
“I have the confidence now just in being out there every day and feeling very different than I did last year,” said Roberts, who’s 8-for-20 this spring. “I think moving forward everything is in the right place.”
Roberts hasn’t dived into second base on a steal attempt this spring. He suggested last year that he might start going feet-first into the bag to better protect himself.
Is that still the plan?
“I don’t know for sure yet,” he said. “I worked on stealing and sliding feet-first last year when I was just out practicing when I hadn’t started playing yet. At that point, I thought it might be the best option. Now I’m feeling much more secure in where I am physically, so it may be one of those things that just happens again. I feel more confident doing that, so if that’s the way it goes, I’m good with that.”
Roberts is much more visible this spring as his health has improved. It’s not unusual to find him at his locker or smiling as he passes through the clubhouse. He traded quips with catcher Matt Wieters a few days ago. He’s in a good place, as Showalter likes to say, and it shows on his face.
“I think every year provides its own excitement, you know?” he said. “My first two or three or four years in the big leagues, you’re trying to establish yourself, you’re excited about where your future is headed and obviously you’re hoping that you’re going to win at the same time. And then, you know, you get through those middle years, and I had some major injuries that I was excited in trying to come back from. Every year has its own excitement, individually and team-wise, but as a whole with people looking at us as a team, and where we think we have the capabilities of going, probably with the 25-man roster, yes, it’s as excited as anybody’s been in here in a long time.”
Roberts, 35, is the longest-tenured player on the Orioles, but he joked that reliever Luis Ayala must be older (he’s not). There’s more gray visible in his hair and the stubble on his face, but he’s not consumed by age.
“I don’t know. I don’t think about it that much,” he said. “I was talking about it a little the other day. Most people in the world think I’m young still, but when you’re sitting beside Manny (Machado), you feel old sometimes. I don’t think I’m old. I don’t feel old. I hope I don’t act that way. I hope I don’t play that way. It’s a number, and that’s all it is. It certainly comes with, I guess, some experience and some things I can hopefully use to help some guys on the team in general.
“We have great young guys and everybody connects pretty easily in here. I don’t think there’s any disconnect in any way with anyone, and I think they do come to all of us. You’ve got a lot of guys in here who have experience, have been in certain situations. I get some questions here and there and certainly have the guys who relate to you with either positional relationships or maybe guys who are trying to do similar things on the bases or hitting or things like that. I’ve hopefully been able to help in a couple of different ways with people.”
Roberts has batted leadoff and second this spring. He insisted again that he’s not concerned about where he hits in the lineup during the regular season. He just wants to be in it.
“I’m waiting to hit third or fourth,” he quipped. “That’s where I’m hoping this is going. Hoping Jonesy (Adam Jones) stays out for a while and I can take over his role.
“I’ve said it over and over again - as long as I’m not hitting 10th, I’m good. We got a lot of guys who can interchange parts and interchange positions in this lineup, and we feel like we’re going to have a great lineup one through nine. Somebody’s got to hit first, somebody’s got to hit second, somebody’s got to hit ninth, and I don’t really think that anybody in here is going to complain about either one. It’s a good problem to have when so many guys that can do so many different things.”
Roberts couldn’t do much again last season, as the Orioles posted a winning record and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He’s hoping to be immersed in their success this summer.
“That was one of the things that last year people were asking, how is it, and it was hard, but at the same time I knew I was going to benefit from the great things that were going on eventually also,” he said. “And being able to come back and play this year, I knew that all the good things that went on last year, it was going to be, hopefully, the tip of the iceberg for what’s going to happen this year.”