I don’t know Roberts well, especially since these are my first days on the beat, but he seemed genuine in discussing the steps in his recovery from multiple concussions.
In the news conference, I had the chance to ask Roberts whether he’s learned anything about himself through the last few months, aside from the constant learning about how to handle his symptoms.
"Things I already knew,” Roberts said. “There's more to life for me than baseball. There always has been, and there always will be. I love the game to death. I do. It's given me and afforded me a lot of great opportunities in life, a lot of great memories, a lot of great relationships, a lot of great moments. But I live by my faith. I trust that God has a plan for my life. I think it goes a lot farther than baseball for me. It put it in perspective for me that I probably haven't had it put in perspective for a long time -- to know that this can be taken away from you every day.
“Tomorrow isn't promised -- to be breathing -- much less to be playing baseball,” he said. “Sure, I've learned some things. If we go through trials and don't learn something, we're not growing. We're not becoming who God has intended us to be, and that's how we become who we are -- and that's through trials. If it all went smoothly all the time, none of us would learn anything in life."
That’s some reflective stuff. And reading between the lines a bit, it appears Roberts has come to terms with the idea that he might not play again. Moments earlier, he spoke about his end goal of playing 162 games for the Orioles. The club, obviously, already has a contingency plan in place with Robert Andino and a bevy of utility guys in camp. They have to.
“I think everybody who’s been here knows that, but from my perspective, we can’t have our season’s success or failure rest on whether he starts the season,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Robert really established himself last year, and we’ve got some quality people in. Nobody’s going to try to make themselves out to be Brian Roberts, but who knows?"
And it’s hard not to feel for Roberts. As a Baltimore native, I know how much he’s meant to this organization, how much the fans have embraced him during the good days of his career. His hustle, stature and smile made him a Baltimore guy.
But in 14 years of sports reporting, I know that one of the most difficult things an athlete or coach deals with is the fear of the end of his career. Age. Injury. A regression of skills. They all snowball downhill into a mental fight that’s tougher to fix than any mechanics flaw.
Add the fact that baseball is game driven by numbers. Batting average, ERA, on-base percentage, WAR. We all use them to quantify a player's value. But in this situation, there's no timetable to draw from. We can't say Roberts will be ready in six weeks or six months.
For Roberts, there are few people -- with the exception of his doctors -- to turn to to help him understand his recovery. That’s difficult enough to handle, let alone when you have no idea when -- or if -- you'll be back.