I had a chance to talk today to former Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the rival New York Yankees.
Roberts, 36, can make up to $4.6 million total in 2014 if he reaches 650 plate appearances (it’s an escalating bonus scale that starts at 250 plate appearances).
He is coming off a four-year, $40 million contract extension with the Orioles, the organization that selected him as a supplemental first-round pick in the 1999 first-year player draft. Roberts played 13 seasons with the Orioles, made two All-Star teams and was the face of the franchise – at least until myriad injuries limited him to just 192 games in the past four seasons.
He talks about leaving the Orioles, joining the Yankees, disappointment in never playing in the playoffs for the Orioles and his comments to the Yankees-owned YES Network last week that rankled some Orioles’ fans feathers.
Here is the interview:
To start, what are your thoughts on no longer being an Oriole?
"It’s definitely something that I’m not sure I ever really envisioned. Once I got to a certain point in my career, I just had the feeling or belief that I would play my entire career as an Oriole. It’s something that certainly was very high on my priority list and something that I felt was very special to be able to do. But it didn’t turn out that way. But it doesn’t take away from the 14 or 15 years -- or how many I had been in the organization -- and the time I had there. It doesn’t -- and never will -- detract from that, because every opportunity and every day that I had to be an Oriole was more than I could have ever dreamed of. But at this point it just didn’t happen.”
What it’s like now being a Yankee?
“You know, I’m very excited. I’m excited for the opportunity to continue playing. I am excited for the next stage and being part of a tremendous franchise with so much history. And I think if I was going to have an opportunity to keep playing, I wanted to do it in a setting where I had an opportunity to accomplish something I haven’t had an opportunity to do -- which is hopefully play in the playoffs and have a chance to win a World Series. And I thought going to New York gave me a great opportunity to do that.”
You told the YES Network in a recent interview that you felt it was “time to move on.” What did you mean by that?
“I think some people may have taken that in a different way than I said it. The only thing I meant by that was that I was really moving on because the opportunity to be an Oriole wasn’t there anymore. And that’s perfectly OK. I understand 100 percent that it is a business. And my time there had been great. Obviously, there had been some ups and downs in the past couple years. That was hard on me as an individual and baseball player and hard on the organization, I’m sure, to not have someone on the field that they counted on. So when I said it was time to move on, that was really the only option I had to continue playing, was to move on at that point. That’s what I meant. I didn’t mean it, by any means, that I chose another organization over the Orioles. That wasn’t what happened, and that really wasn’t an option. It was time to move on, and I think the signs were very clear that that was what was going to happen."
The Orioles never approached you in the offseason about a deal and you never approached them. What happened there?
“I think, as I said, I understand that this is a business, and at some point that’s what it becomes. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in one place. Every organization comes to a point where they have to do the best for that organization, and whether that means trading a really good player or not signing a player that’s been there a long time or whatever it might be. I think that’s where it had gotten to. We really didn’t have any conversations about it. I don’t think it’s my place as a player to necessarily go to an organization and ask for a job. So I didn’t think it was my place to try and force an issue and put the organization in a situation where they felt like they needed to -- out of guilt or anything else -- to [re-sign me]. I wanted it to be that both parties wanted it to happen. And I think I made it clear at the end of the season when I talked to [Orioles] people and the media and anybody else that the Orioles would be my No. 1 choice. I don’t think that I ever wavered on that. But I also think on the last day of the season, that when the game was over, that [would be] it, that was a possibility. And I was OK with that. I became OK with that as a player. And there are no hard feelings. The organization and the fans and everyone in Baltimore have been incredible to me my whole career. I wouldn’t have changed a thing, except I wish I could have been on the field a little bit more the last couple years. But other than that, I wouldn’t change anything.”
The sense is that with your strong relationship with the Angelos family you could have contacted owner Peter Angelos and told him that you wanted to stay this year and it would have happened. And you didn’t do that. Why?
“I have so much respect for the Angelos family and the relationship we have had has been something that has been a huge blessing to myself and my family. At first, I didn’t think it was my place to use that leverage stick to come back. As I said earlier, I really wanted it to be something that happened because the people in the organization wanted it to happen and felt like I could be an asset to the team. And I’m not saying that they don’t think I could be that or whatever. But the way it played out, it just seemed like it wasn’t what was going to happen and I didn’t feel like it was my place to do that. Maybe some people will look at it differently, but from my standpoint, that’s just the only way I’ve ever worked, and the way I feel it should work, so that’s really the reason why [I didn’t call Angelos]. But I have talked to the Angelos family [since], I have had great conversations with them, and I hope, and I think they know, the way I feel about them and everything they did for me and my family.”
Some Orioles’ fans were rankled by your comments to YES Network that many players grow up thinking about the Yankees’ pinstripes, you included. What are your thoughts on that?
“When I made the comments the other day, it seemed like somebody tried to take it as a dagger to Orioles fans. My point of saying that a lot of kids dream about putting that uniform on, I didn’t mean that as a jab at the Orioles or Orioles fans. My point was I had pictures of me as a kid in a Yankees uniform playing in the backyard because my dad [former University of North Carolina head baseball coach Mike Roberts] had a player that played for the Yankees (Scott Bradley), and I think it is something a lot of kids do dream of. Playing on that stage because of the 27 championships or whatever they have now. But I didn’t mean that as a dagger, and I hope that [Orioles fans] didn’t take it that way. The only thing I meant was that I am excited for this opportunity, and I hope there is nothing wrong with that. I would hope that anyone that comes to the Orioles, who signs on there, would be excited about that opportunity as well.”
Have you heard the sentiment that Orioles fans understood you leaving, but were disappointed you ended up with the Yankees? Did you think about that wrinkle while making the decision?
“Of course, I’ve heard that sentiment before. I’m pretty sure. But I guess, honestly, I can’t say that I let that weigh too much into my decision. I had to take the best opportunity for myself and my family that was available. And we felt like that was the best opportunity when it came to everything we were looking for, when it came to an opportunity to play and an opportunity to win and several other things that our family was looking at. It was just the best opportunity. And I understand that [sentiment] more than anyone. When I put on that Orioles uniform for 13 years, I felt the same way as the fans did [about the Yankees]. But now I’m pretty excited to be a part of their side, and that’s where I am now, and I am going to embrace it, and I hope the fans understand that it was an opportunity and I am excited about that.”
When you look back at your Orioles’ career, what memories stand out for you?
“Oh man, there’s a lot of them, I think, beginning with early in my career, battling through a lot of doubt in a lot of people’s minds whether I could actually be a productive major league player. And then getting to a point where I was that kind of player, I think that was one of the early [standout] moments. And then certainly being able to represent the city, the Orioles, the organization in a couple of All-Star games -- that was very memorable for me and my family, and hopefully the fans enjoyed that. In 2012, to see everything that we had been through for so long, to see the park and the atmosphere the way it was, that is something I will never, ever forget. I wish I had been on the field and playing and experiencing it. But just going out for the introductions, I had chills. It was just a very memorable experience. And then I think there were a lot of opportunities to interact with the fans through our charity endeavors and all the people that supported what my wife and I tried to do in the community, Brian’s Bash (annual charity event) and things like that. I think those are the most important things. Hopefully, you leave a lasting and positive impact on the people around you, the people you came in contact with on a daily basis.”
You say you have no regrets, but given your previously stated goals, how difficult is it for you knowing that you won’t play in a playoff game for the Orioles?
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, of course. That’s the reason why, when it came to the point where I was close to free agency [in 2010], that I wanted to stay in Baltimore and I wanted to be there. I really believed we were headed in the right direction and the organization was going to make it happen. And it did. The only unfortunate part was I wasn’t able to play in it. I don’t actually look at it in the fact that I didn’t get to play in a playoff game. Because I was still part of that team, and I feel like I was still a part of an organization that helped make that happen. So I don’t think I necessarily look at it as I’ve never played in a playoff game. But I’ve also always said whether I win a World Series ring or play in a playoff game or anything else, it’s not going to define my career. I’ve enjoyed every second of my career, and I don’t think that should ever define anyone’s career. There are other things that go into whether you were successful in your career.”
What are your thoughts about coming back to Camden Yards in pinstripes for the first time on July 11-13? What will that be like?
“It’s going to be very weird. To walk down the hallway and walk past the home clubhouse and go to the visitor’s side and come out that tunnel, it’s something I’ve never thought about a whole lot until now. I think I’ve only been to the visiting locker room one time in 13 years. I’m not even sure I know what it looks like, to tell you the truth. But I sure hope it will be a positive experience. That the fans know that every day I walked onto the field as an Oriole I gave everything I had, including the days I wasn’t on the field. Even on the days I wasn’t able to play and I was hurt, if I was in Sarasota, I was giving everything I had to get back on the field. And there’s nothing more I loved to do than walking out on the field at Camden Yards and playing nine innings. So I hope it will be a positive experience, and I hope the fans understand it was part of the baseball business, and if Brian Roberts chose another organization, it was part of the way things were laid out. And that’s OK, I think, for both sides.”
Have you put on a Yankees uniform yet?
"No, I haven’t. I haven’t seen anything yet or put anything on yet. That’s going to be a unique experience."
Is there disappointment that you didn’t stay with one team all of your career, something you have stated in the past was a goal?
“I don’t think I ever shied away from the fact that I thought that was a very special thing to be able to do. There are not a whole lot of players that can say they played 13 or 14 years in the league and all in one city with one team, one organization. But it’s not like I was going to retire if I felt like I still wanted to play the game of baseball and felt like I could still play the game, if that wasn’t going to be the case [of staying with one team]. I am sure in some ways it is hard and it is something I was hoping I’d be able to do. But, at the same time, I honestly don’t think it’s going to take away from the fact that, in a lot of ways, Brian Roberts will always be an Oriole.”
How are you physically right now?
“I feel like I am in a good place. I think that coming back into last year, I felt like I was in a good place going through spring training. And through the whole spring training I was extremely excited about getting out there and playing a lot and hopefully getting back to contributing and helping the team win. And then, unfortunately, three games into the season it took a little twist (when he injured his right hamstring). But when I came back, though it took me a little bit to get going, in the last part of the year I felt like I started to really feel confident in my abilities again. And I felt like I was doing good work to where I could continue my career in terms of really looking closely at, ‘Were my skills there and if I could still play.’ And I felt like they were. The thing for me is that I was excited to go back out and get an opportunity to play every day if [the Yankees] want me to and getting back to playing at a high level.”
On a personal note, how is fatherhood (his first child, son Jax, is about six months old)?
“It’s been amazing. It’s coming up on six months and it’s a lot of fun. It has been everything I could hope for and more. For all the people, all the fans, that have walked that journey with us and seen us go through the process, we appreciate their support more than anything. And Jax is doing great.”
Anything else to sum up your time in Baltimore?
“I hope that I got my point across. I wanted to make sure that I said thank you to the fans for all of their support. Just the amount of e-mails to our web ite and the letters and the wishes we have gotten have made this process even easier for us. Because the last thing I want is to walk away from there and leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouths. I want people to know I appreciate everything that I have had in Baltimore. It’s been my wife’s and my home. We’ve sunk ourselves into that city, on the field and off, and I just hope that everyone knows how much we appreciate their support in return.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun