MSNBC host Thomas Roberts was called back to Baltimore under rough circumstances earlier this year when the city dealt with over a week of unrest as a result of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody.
But Roberts, host of “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts,” which airs weekdays at 1 p.m., is back Monday under much happier circumstances — he’ll throw out the ceremonial first pitch before friends and family on Monday when the Orioles face the Philadelphia Phillies.
Roberts, a Towson native and McDaniel graduate, used the occasion of his big day Monday to continue his reporting on the aftermath of the Freddie Gray unrest, and spoke with The Sun about his Orioles fandom, the now-infamous empty stadium game against the Chicago White Sox, and what the team can mean to the city going forward.
The easiest way to start off is how does one’s lifelong Orioles fandom lead him to getting to throw out the first pitch today? How did this whole thing come about?
It’s really exciting, and I am thrilled to be doing this today. Actually, I became connected with the Orioles through the coverage when I was down for the network in May and came to do an interview about the fact that they went ahead with the Orioles game with no fans at Camden Yards that day. We connected that way, and their VP of communications just stayed in touch with me and said, “Hey, you’re a Baltimore kid. How’d you like to come home one day and throw out the first pitch?” I said, “Absolutely. Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”
It was through Greg, and I double confirmed that he sent the email to the proper person. It’s all come together. It’s all working out quite nicely.
Growing up in Towson, was it Orioles all the way for you?
Yea, I used to go to Orioles games back when it was Memorial Stadium, so I’ve been a lifelong fan. I love Camden Yards—I had my graduation party from college at Camden Yards at Babe’s. It’s now Dempsey’s. I love the Orioles, I love Camden Yards, it’s such a beautiful place to go see a ballgame and it’s a big honor or me to be coming back tonight. I have my whole family coming, my grade school friends, my high school friends, college friends, so pray that I do a good job. … It’s about 25 people.
A lot of people put a lot of pressure on themselves for something like this. Have you been keeping the throwing arm in shape for something like this?
I’m completely putting a lot of pressure on myself because I want to do a good job, and my friends are all taking bets about how poorly I will do. I need to do a good job. I’ve been practicing over the last several weeks to get my arm in gear because everybody warns me it’s further than you think. I was out yesterday practicing in Patterson Park because I was in Baltimore, I was doing some work yesterday with one of my buddies is going to be there tonight. We were practicing over there, and then Billy Bean, who is the MLB ambassador for inclusion, I was practicing with him in New York last month. I took this opportunity very seriously.
As someone who’s from here but is in New York now, what did that game say to you, seeing it from afar and have that be the image coming out of Baltimore during those days?
It was surreal. It was absolutely surreal that that was taking place. It was completely surreal to be home and in Baltimore doing this story and being in areas of the city that I was not overly familiar with. The scales really fell away from my eyes about the blight in the city that I had been unfamiliar with. It had my attention, and I think it has the country’s attention. Through coming back and doing reports on it like I was yesterday for my show, keeping a spotlight on the progress and justice and the personal stories of the people of Baltimore, the city can move forward in a positive direction. I hope that that never happens in Baltimore again. That was completely horrible to see this city in such turmoil. It was gut-wrenching to watch, and I can only hope everybody is going to come together to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
As the summer continues, what do you think the Orioles heating up and being the team everyone thought they were supposed to be can do for the city as a whole, maybe to say things are getting back to normal?
Obviously there’s a lot of pride that goes into what the Orioles represent and their long standing in the community of Baltimore City. I’m just glad to see that when I was there over the weekend, it seemed calmer. The community seems as if it’s more patient. Unfortunately, it seems that the stats reflect violent crime has gone up since the death of Freddie Gray, and that’s troubling, but that all has to work itself out in the justice system, and also with the unity that needs to come from the police department, the mayor and the state’s attorney’s office as they look to figure out culturally, what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong as they serve the city.