Second baseman Brian Roberts will play in his first baseball game today since sliding headfirst into the first-base bag at Fenway Park on May 16, 2011 – more than a year ago.

Yes, it's only a minor league game at Double-A Bowie. And yes, he'll only play the field for a few innings and get a couple at-bats tonight and Thursday and will be exclusively the DH on Friday.


Who knows what will happen, whether he can overcome his concussion symptoms and return to the Orioles after his 20-day rehab assignment is over?

But the truth is there is some hope right now. And that didn't seem plausible months ago.

When Roberts left that May 16 game last year, he basically faded away. And since he had lost such a large chunk of the previous season as well, no one really seemed to sense his absence in 2011. The team wasn't very good anyway, and so he was out of sight, out of mind.

This year is different. The Orioles are in first place in late May. And Roberts has been around the whole time, working his butt off while forging new relationships and rekindling old ones. He has become part of the team again after being just a well-paid stranger.

And so when he announced Tuesday that he'd be going to Bowie, his teammates rallied around him.

"Just Brian's presence alone in the lineup means so much," lefty Brian Matusz said. "What he's done in his career, he's one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. I've been working out with Brian this whole year. We've been doing sprints and lifting together. I know how hard he's been working."

Starter Jason Hammel saw Roberts packing his bags Tuesday night and went over to say, "Good luck." Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he might "slip down" to Bowie after Wednesday afternoon's Orioles game to see how Roberts does.

"I think everybody's excited for him. There's so much unknown. I wouldn't say he's got anxiety. It's the next step. He's prepared himself. I see how hard he's been working to get ready for this day," Showalter said. "There's a nice little buzz about him going out in our clubhouse. We all know it could make us better if we can get him back like he's capable [of playing]."

Some fans are worried about what will happen to second baseman Robert Andino if Roberts returns. What will happen to the lineup?

Those questions are premature right now. Roberts may not return as the same guy who was one of baseball's best leadoff hitters. But if he does, if he is the Brian Roberts he was before, that will be a huge lift for the Orioles.

And, right now, another unexpected lift in this hard-to-believe start could really mean something.

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