In the midst of what he called the "toughest stint" of his career, Orioles veteran second baseman Brian Roberts isn't sure whether he'll play baseball again this season, but he remains confident that he'll be a productive member of the team in the future.
"Through the whole process, I certainly want people to understand that there's nobody more frustrated than I am, there's nobody that loves playing the game of baseball still more than I do," Roberts said in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun and MLB.com. "I know it's been disappointing for our fans, for our players, for our organizations — not only the season, but my circumstances. I still want to be in an Oriole uniform to see this team end up where we desire to go, and I still believe that I'll be an integral part of that in the next two years."
Roberts, who hasn't played since he sustained a concussion while sliding headfirst into first base against the Boston Red Sox on May 16, is in Pittsburgh to see specialist Dr. Michael Collins on Wednesday. He said he continues to make steady progress, though he's not at the point where he has done any strenuous running or attempted to play in games.
His visit with Dr. Collins on Wednesday is more of a checkup to make sure Roberts is continuing to progress. He doesn't expect to be immediately cleared to begin playing.
"I certainly haven't given up hope that I'll have the opportunity to play before the end of the season, but that's not my choice," said Roberts, who has played in just 39 of the Orioles' 119 games this season after playing in just 59 contests last year. "At this point, I'm at the mercy of the doctors and we're trying to do this as wisely as possible this time around. We are taking every precaution that we can to make sure that this doesn't happen again. That's our first and foremost priority, that when I do step back on the baseball field, whether it's 2011 or 2012, that the chances of this [happening again] are remote."
Roberts, the longest-tenured Oriole, has had two concussions in an eight-month span. The first occurred Sept. 27, when the leadoff man hit himself on the helmet with his bat after striking out against the Tampa Bay Rays. Roberts experienced concussion symptoms, including headaches and dizziness, for a couple of months after that, and he acknowledged Tuesday that he probably didn't have all the proper information or take all the right steps to aid in his recovery.
He's adamant that he will do that this time, even if that means he won't play another baseball game for the rest of the season. He also said Dr. Collins is confident that he is on the right path to put the concussion issues behind him.
"As I've said since Day One, this is something that none of us know until you've gone through it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm not going to try and understand it. I'm not equipped to understand, other than I know that Robby wants to be on the field and he wants to play. I'm just hoping that when it does get right, it's something that he can put behind him and finish up what should be a great career and play for a long time. Obviously, it's as frustrating to him as it is to our inability to win more games."
Roberts has been taking batting practice and performing fielding drills, but he acknowledged that he had to take a step back about 10 days ago because he started experiencing headaches again.
"They are definitely less severe and definitely less frequent," said Roberts, who has consulted with other players who have had concussions, including the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau and the Toronto Blue Jays' Aaron Hill. "In May and June, my symptoms were much, much worse. I wasn't participating in anything because my symptoms at that point were so bad that I wasn't capable of participating in activities, really. … I've been doing baseball activities off and on for the last couple of weeks, and we've made some pretty good progress. I'm not to the point where I can do everything that we need to do, unfortunately, yet, but we're a lot farther along than we were a month ago."
Especially after missing a good chunk of last season, mostly because of a herniated disk in his back, Roberts acknowledged, the time away from the game and his teammates has been especially difficult. "Certainly for me, it's the hardest thing that I can go through," he said.
Throughout his career, he has avoided reading newspaper or Internet reports about himself or the Orioles or listening to talk radio. However, he seemed at least partially aware that some have questioned his desire to play and his commitment to the only organization that he has ever known.
"Unfortunately, you can't always control the perception that is out there," Roberts said. "All of you can do is know that you are doing everything that you can. For me, in this instance, I'm doing everything I possibly can to get back on the baseball field. If the perception is out there that I'm not or for some unknown reason people have feelings that I don't want to play baseball, sure, that's very hard and hurtful for somebody that takes as much pride in playing the game as I do. As unfortunate as the incident was when I became injured, it was injury of passion because I care about the game, I care about the Orioles and I care about the team."
Roberts did say he heard some "backlash" about his recent cancellation of "Brian's Bash," his annual charity event that benefits the University of Maryland Children's Hospital. Roberts, who had open-heart surgery as a young child, had hosted the event for the previous five years. When Roberts and his wife, Diana, realized they had to cancel it, they wrote a check to the hospital to make up for the lost money.
"We got to the point where we realized it wasn't going to make sense for me, unfortunately, with the state of my concussion," Roberts said. "What people I think have to realize in the recovery of a concussion, your day-to-day routine, what you go through on a daily basis affects your recovery. Everything you do outside that routine presents an opportunity to take a step backward in that recovery. As important as the hospital is to us, my first priority is the Orioles, playing baseball and getting back on the field. We felt like the Bash was an opportunity to take a step backward with the change of routine, with the stimulation of the environment, the stress of the environment. We felt it was unfortunate that this was the only choice that we had at that point."
Roberts said he has no immediate plans to return to Baltimore or make any projections on when he'll play next. His only goal, he said, is to get through each day and put the concussion symptoms further behind him.
"I think anybody who has ever been on the DL, unless it's a minor hamstring strain or something like that, anyone who has ever had an injury for two or three months, would be lying if they said they didn't have those thoughts in their mind at some point in the process," Roberts said when asked whether he considered at any point that his career could be over. "You have good days and bad days. When you're dealing with your brain, you have better days and worse days. I think I can properly say that [retirement] has crossed my mind at some point. I think once I gained more information and [understood] more of what was going on, the better I felt about the long-term prognosis."
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