Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Brian Roberts, 2007 Bowman Heritage #11
Brian Roberts has been my favorite Oriole for the past decade, but his roots in the Baltimore organization go even deeper. He was drafted by the team in 1999, which seems like ages ago: Ray Miller was the manager, Frank Wren the general manager, and Will Clark the starting first baseman. Within two years, the undersized infielder was in the major leagues, playing alongside graying Birds greats Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson. He spent his peak seasons (2004-2009) toiling in relative obscurity for bad, overmatched clubs. During said peak, he averaged .290/.365/.438 (111 OPS+) with 101 runs scored, 46 doubles, 12 homers, 62 RBI, and 35 steals per season. Roberts was a two-time All-Star who had a good case for two more. Through his entire pro baseball career, from the 1999 Delmarva Shorebirds (featuring Tim Raines, Jr. and Ntema Ndungidi!) on through to the 2011 Orioles (featuring Chris Jakubauskas and the ghost of Vlad Guerrero!), he never played for a team that broke even, much less entertained hopes of postseason play...unless you count the 2003 Ottawa Lynx, for whom he played 44 early-season games before joining the O's for good. And when Baltimore finally became reacquainted with winning baseball and meaningful October games in that magical 2012 season, Brian wasn't around to enjoy it. His myriad injuries limited him to 17 substandard games in midseason. He was reduced to spectator and cheerleader for Baltimore's thrilling six-game postseason run, a spectre in a black stocking cap perched on the dugout bench.
After all of that, Roberts finally got healthy enough to cobble together an ersatz farewell tour in the last half of the 2013 season. He wasn't up to his former high standards of play, but after three and a half years of commiserating with my favorite player's disabled list torment, it was a thrill and a relief to watch and take note of every nimble catch and pivot in the field. The dozen doubles and eight home runs he hit in his 77-game swan song may as well have been 70 and 50. I even appreciated the lengthy at-bats that might have ended in outs, but worked the opponent's pitch count in a way that so many of Roberts' younger and more robust teammates couldn't seem to master. It was apparent for much of 2013 that the Orioles were not leading the same charmed existence of 2012, and yet they clung to their playoff hopes deep into September before the door slammed shut on them. Brian Roberts would still not get to taste the champagne.
So after all of these years, all of the hits and stolen bases and runs and defensive stops, and the frustration of all of the injuries, and the heartening comeback...after all of the charitable efforts that Brian undertook in the community...after witnessing his rise and fall at the highest level of his sport, and his development into a devoted husband and father...I don't begrudge Brian Roberts any successes he might have in 2014, and I will still root for him on a personal level. But the possibility of seeing his struggles culminate in postseason success in the Bronx is too much for me to contemplate.
Thank you for everything, Brian. Do good, and be well, and know that you made a difference here in numerous ways.