Sometimes it seems as if Brian Roberts dominates spring training. It’s not his desire, but somehow it always seems to happen.
When Roberts makes the short trip from his winter home in Sarasota to the Orioles spring training headquarters where he’s already been working out, he makes news.
Last year, he was trying to come back from his second concussion, and it was news that he took batting practice with the team and finally able to watch some of the games from the dugout.
The year before, he had a concussion and a bad back.
This year, seemingly fully recovered from the effects of the concussions and the back, Roberts tries again. Last July, just a few weeks after his courageous comeback from the head injuries, Roberts injured his right hip, an injury that ended his season.
Roberts underwent surgery in August, and traveled with the team during its postseason run. It was poignant because Roberts represented the good during the Orioles’ lean years and it was sad that he couldn’t fully enjoy the good times of 2012.
His troubles began in spring training four years ago. That was when a four-year, $10 million extension was announced. 2009 was the last season he played regularly, with a league-leading 56 doubles, and a career-high 79 RBIs.
That was the year before Buck Showalter.
Showalter’s arrival was preceded by Roberts’ back injury, which was sustained when he slid head first into second during the home opener. He left the game and by the time he returned more than three months later, the Orioles were heavily into negotiations with Showalter.
The new manager saw Roberts play some when he arrived in Aug. 2010, but his season was truncated when he banged a bat against his head in anger, causing a concussion.
The next spring training Roberts was careful with his back and head and was only hitting .221 in May when he hurt his head diving back into first base.
That began his long nightmare. His season was over, and many thought his career was, too.
He painstakingly rehabbed, and was subject to ridicule when he pulled out of his scheduled appearance at FanFest last January. His doctors advised him that the crowds, Iights and noise would be too much for him. He couldn’t sign autographs.
Roberts is scheduled to be there on Jan. 19, and less than four weeks later, try to reclaim the second base job.
He’s played only 115 games in the first three years of his contract, and while he bravely says he’d like to play beyond this deal, he won’t play for the Orioles in 2014 unless he recaptures his form of 2009 and before.
At 35, Roberts may be facing his final spring training, almost certainly his last one with the Orioles. If he’s healthy, he’s certainly a better option at second base than Alexi Casilla. He’s also an effective leadoff hitter, though in his absence last year, Showalter turned to Nick Markakis, and then Nate McLouth.
Facing the choice between a robust Roberts or Markakis in the leadoff spot would be an interesting one for Showalter. He hasn’t really seen Roberts in his prime, and Showalter can only hope to struggle with that choice.
Roberts is in the club’s top 10 in several offensive categories: hits, runs, walks and doubles. He trails only Brady Anderson in stolen bases.
His prime years were the Orioles’ worst. Beginning next month, Roberts gets one final chance to recapture those prime years.