After Brian Roberts played his first major league baseball game in nearly 13 months – his long recovery from multiple concussions finally putting him back in a big-league uniform – he took off his jersey in the Orioles clubhouse, autographed the back and handed it to one of the people who helped him get through his arduous journey.
With a smile, Roberts handed his jersey to Dr. Michael "Micky" Collins, the director of the Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Collins has guided Roberts through each step of his rehab and recovery and attended Roberts’ first game since May 16, 2011 on Tuesday at Camden Yards.
“He’s been huge,” Roberts said Wednesday. “There have been a lot of people who have been instrumental in the process, but besides my wife, I can’t think of anyone more instrumental than Dr. Collins was. Just the amount of time he took, the amount of encouragement, his wisdom, all those things. I just felt that for him to make the trip down here, he’s meant a lot for me as a friend and certainly a great doctor as well.”
Collins said Roberts’ return is a major success story when it comes to concussions. When he first began working with Roberts, the goal wasn’t a return to big leagues. It was making sure Roberts could live out his daily life without suffering from concussion symptoms – among them the headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue that Roberts overcame during his recovery.
“I think anybody who knows Brian knows how badly he wanted to get back to playing,” said Collins, who played college baseball at Southern Maine. “But we didn’t even think about that until months into it. It’s a hard injury for someone to go through. Everyone thinks, well 13 months is a long time, but actually I’ve got to tell you, it’s a good outcome.
“To get him back to playing, not every athlete that goes through what Brian went through gets back to playing. A lot of players who’ve gone through what he’s gone through have had to hang them up. He persevered through it.”
The key was not having a timetable, but focusing on steadily integrating Roberts back into the game – and life – without having a setback. That's why Roberts had to pull out of Orioles Fanfest and why he took it slow during spring training in Sarasota.
“The condition he has really affected his ability to deal with a lot of activity,” Collins said. “Certain environments would be quite provocative for him and cause him a lot of stress, and quite frankly could have set him days and even weeks at the beginning of this if he did the wrong activity. What we did was very careful systematic rehabilitation where we slowly integrated him back into these types of environments.
“Working out by himself and getting to that point was a milestone and then integrating him into the team and just having him watch a game without provoking symptoms was a huge challenge and getting him on the field with all the other guys around him was a big challenge. And from there it was getting back to baseball activity. It was an arduous process for someone to go through who had an injury like his.”
Collins credited the Orioles training and medical staff as well as manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette for understanding there was no manual to Roberts’ recovery.
“If that support wasn’t there, this wouldn’t turn out how it did,” he said.
During some of Roberts’ most difficult days, he and Collins would talk on the phone daily. Over the past few weeks, their calls have become more spread out. “That’s a great thing,” Collins said.
“This is something we’ll have to monitor and make sure there’s not a reoccurrence of issues,” he said. “But quite frankly, I think all of us are confident that we’ve done the necessary steps where we can let this breathe now and let Brian be a baseball player and we all feel confident about that. It’s something that Brian will call me if he needs to call me. I’m not going to bother him.”
“I haven’t talked to him in a couple days, which is really great. I don’t want to talk to Brian about this. I want him to be a baseball player. We’re at the point where Brian is a baseball player again and the fact of not talking to him is the best thing ever honestly. We’ve joked about that. He’s like, ‘Wow, I’m not going to have to call you much anymore.’ I’m like, ‘Brian, I don’t want you to call me anymore.’
As for Roberts’ jersey, Collins said it’s currently being framed to hang in the lobby of UPMC’s new 3,500 square foot facility dedicated to concussions.
“I had been wanting to give him a jersey for a while,” Roberts said. “I just hadn’t found the right time, and felt like (Tuesday) night was a great time to do it.”