It is only about a 45-minute ride from Brian Roberts' house in Sarasota to Tropicana Field, but the trip represented yet another difficult hurdle in the veteran second baseman's return from a concussion.
"It was a huge step for me to get in the car," said Roberts, whose voice cracked several times Friday as he talked with reporters while seated next to Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The 33-year-old was around some of his teammates for one of the first times since he last played May 16.
"I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean that because I take a lot of pride in wanting to be here, doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and [Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos] has put a lot of investment into me and my family. The Orioles have tried to count on me for a lot and I haven't been there, and that's hard for me. It's hard for me to walk in there and look guys in the eye, especially knowing what they've been through the last five months. I've been there and I've done it, and it's hard and it's rough. Coming to the field today is difficult for me … but I felt like it's something I needed to do to kind of break that barrier."
Roberts continues to work out and perform baseball activities at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota. However, he hasn't played in any games and said he won't until he's symptom-free. He acknowledges that will make it extremely difficult for him to return before the 2011 season is over.
"I don't think we've ever sat down and necessarily ruled out anything," Roberts said. "It would probably take, at this point, everything to go really, really, really well for the next couple of weeks. But I think all of our goals is just to get healthy, 100 percent symptom-free for an extended period of time, and be ready to play whenever that is."
Asked whether he still had concerns that his career could be in jeopardy, Roberts said: "I think anybody who is on the disabled list for an extended period of time has those thoughts, unfortunately. But I'm no doctor, and the doctors have assured me that's not the case. They are the ones who have been through a lot more training, a lot more schooling and seen these cases over and over and over again. That's very reassuring when you are dealing with people where that's all they do. When they tell me that I'll be ready to play again and I'll be fine, I trust that opinion."
Roberts, who also suffered a concussion last year and saw the symptoms persist well through the offeseason, reiterated that this has been the toughest stretch of his career. He has days when he feels great and thinks that he is "turning the corner." Then, a day or two later, he experiences headaches or dizziness and is reminded that he still has a long way to go.
"There are not many people that can understand what you are going through except somebody who has been through it," Roberts said. "When you talk to those guys, they all have the same sentiment. You feel like you are letting people down. You wish you had a cast on. You wish you were bleeding somewhere where it was blatantly obvious why you weren't on the baseball field. I could come in here, and people can probably look at me and say: 'Wow, he looks pretty good. I don't know what's wrong with him.' You can't physically understand, I guess, unless you go through it on a daily basis."
Roberts met with Showalter for nearly an hour, and the manager said he hoped the appearance by the organization's longest-tenured player buoyed the team.
"I know our guys are excited about seeing him here, but that's a tough step, you know?" Showalter said. "I don't think anybody understands completely what Brian is going through, and there are so many unknowns about it. … We are just hoping that he gets back to the point where he can enjoy all of the days of his life again, and we'll see if he can play some baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. We will see where the end is game is here. We are just dwelling on the moment and excited to see him, knowing everything he's been through."
NOTES: Brian Matusz threw a bullpen session Friday, but Showalter confirmed that the struggling starter won't pitch in the Tampa Bay Rays series. Matusz, who is 1-7 with a 9.07 ERA, was originally scheduled to start Saturday. … Matt Hobgood, the Orioles' 2009 first-round pick, will not pitch anymore this season at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He will report Sunday or Monday to the organization's minor league complex and prepare for the instructional league, which will run from Sept. 15 to Oct. 8. The Orioles would like Hobgood to throw 15 to 20 innings in the instructional league in preparation for next spring. … First baseman Chris Davis (right shoulder strain) could join Double-A Bowie as early as Sunday to start a brief rehabilitation assignment that could have him back with the Orioles early next week. … Starter Tommy Hunter, who was hospitalized after his start Thursday because he was feeling ill, flew to Florida to rejoin the club, but he was still feeling sick, so he stayed back at the team hotel rather than reporting to Tropicana Field. … Starter Jo-Jo Reyes left the team after his wife went into labor. It's unclear when he will return.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.