People often say that playing in the majors is a roller coaster ride.
For the Baltimore Orioles’ Brian Roberts, that coaster has more loops, sharp turns, drops and climbs than any other.
The road back to the big leagues was one that took a whopping 13 months. It involved a mix of steady determination, unrivaled preparedness and the undying will to step back onto the infield dirt in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
At one point last year, Roberts was simply a ghost amongst his Orioles teammates. After suffering a season-ending, and potentially career-ending, concussion during the 2011 campaign, Roberts was unable to even sit in the dugout with his fellow comrades. The images of people moving in and out of his frame of vision would make him nauseous, to the point where simply arriving at the stadium was a feat all its own.
As Roberts’ concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins told Roch Kubatko at MASN Sports, the road to recovery was a long and arduous one.
“I remember him watching his first spring training game and he was like, 'I can't imagine getting out there. I can't imagine dealing with the speed and emotion,'” Collins told Kubatko. "His type of concussion affects the brain's ability to integrate complex environments. Baseball, being around crowds and people and just all the motion that happens in that environment, the system of the brain that was affected was that system.”
“We had to go through this so carefully and so systematically. Just getting him back in the locker room with the guys was part of his rehab. Getting him back on the field around a bunch of other people. He had to work out on his own, solitary on the field and in the weight room with no one else there. Just running on the treadmill.”
Personally, watching Roberts make his triumphant return to the big leagues was a joy in more ways than one.
I am a resident of Pearl River, LA. The bustling city of New Orleans is roughly 35 minutes to my South. All this area has are the New Orleans Saints, the New Orleans Hornets and the Fighting Tigers of Lousiana State University. I wish there was a whiff of professional baseball around these parts, but sadly there isn’t.
Making it all the way to Camden Yards in Baltimore is something that I do not have the opportunity to do very often. Although I’ve been a die-hard fan of the Orioles since I was 6 years old, I’ve only been to the beautiful stadium once.
When my dad and I arrived at the park, he told me I could buy a hat and a shirt to take back home with me. Because the “O’s” hats were fairly new at the time, I quickly pointed to the black and orange cap on the wall. The other thing I wanted? The shirt that sported the name and number of my favorite baseball player at the time. It was Brian Roberts, and he was No. 1 to me.
Roberts has found his way into the heart of every Orioles fanatic in one way or another. He’s seen it all as a member of the Birds: 14 consecutive losing seasons, a career season and All-Star Game appearance in 2005, a steroid scandal, a severe arm injury and a major concussion to boot.
In fact, the only thing “B-Rob” hasn’t seen is a winning season. It’s sad, but one cannot blame Roberts for the poor performance of the franchise over the past decade.
For this reason, seeing him return to the leadoff spot in 2012 is all the more sweet. The Orioles, currently 11 games over .500 (37-26), are fielding a squad that has the city of Baltimore backing the Birds for the first time in a long time. Although Orioles Nation isn’t getting its hopes up just yet (we all remember what happened in 2005), it’s still safe to say that this may be Roberts’ best chance to be a piece of a winning ball club.
Although the O’s have found success this season, they were still on the hunt for a seasoned leadoff hitter to help set up the remainder of the lineup. Roberts, who had established himself as one of the best leadoff batters in baseball prior to his concussion, was the perfect fit.
And wouldn’t you know it, the O’s offense began to take off the second Roberts’ name was inserted back into the batting order.
In his first at-bat of the 2012 season, Roberts lined a frozen rope single into centerfield. It was a beautiful moment.
[caption id="attachment_153" align="aligncenter" width="493" caption="Orioles star center fielder Adam Jones (right) gives Brian Roberts (left) a gentle shaving cream celebration following his three-hit debut on Tuesday night."][/caption]
Over the course of three games against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberts went 4 for 14 with an RBI and a run scored. He narrowly missed a home run to left field on Thursday night. All the while, he played stellar defense at second base.
So how did the Orioles’ batters react to Roberts’ return?
They put up 27 runs over a three-game span, the most compiled over that period of time all season long. The Orioles successfully swept the Pirates, who came into the series on a five-game winning streak and in second place in the National League Central, in devastating fashion.
It is uncertain how the rest of the season will work out for Roberts and the Orioles.
For now, though, they’re back to playing winning baseball, and they finally have their veteran second baseman leading the charge at the top of the lineup.
All is right in Charm City.
It’s Orioles Magic.
Feel it happen.
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