Roberts happy to be back on diamond
Second baseman grateful he was able to battle through injury
The sound began in the highest reaches of Camden Yards, a standing ovation that spilled down, section by section, building as it tumbled toward the field until it became a cascade of cheers from a small crowd of more than 15,000 fans that enveloped the ballpark.
Welcome home, Brian Roberts.
Thirteen months after he suffered a concussion when he hit his head sliding into first base, Roberts returned to the Orioles lineup on June 12 in his accustomed spot, batting leadoff and playing second base. But for a moment, that emotional welcome from the fans took his breath away. And with good reason, because there were times during his recovery when Roberts could not be sure he would ever play again.
There were the endless headaches, the bouts of dizziness, the depression that is natural for an athlete in Roberts' situation. In those moments, Roberts admitted, he thought about more than baseball. He thought about the quality of life that was ahead for him.
Roberts was hurt during a game against Boston on May 16, 2011. He tried to beat out an infield roller, dove for first base and hit his head. He came up disoriented, his vision blurry, unable to recognize signs from the third base coach. Two days later, he was diagnosed. He had suffered his second concussion in two years.
That began a downward spiral for him.
"Migraine headaches, nausea, dizziness, I had it all," the 34-year-old said.
As days turned into months during his recovery, the two-time All-Star asked himself if he would ever play baseball again.
"I wondered if this was something I would have to deal with for the rest of my life," he said.
Roberts was familiar with injuries. There was a dislocated elbow in 2005 suffered in a baseline collision that cost him the last month of the season. There was a herniated disc in his back followed by an abdominal strain that kept him out for the first three months of the 2010 season. But this was different. This was his head.
No two concussions are the same. Recovery takes time, and Roberts was anxious to recover. But it was a slow, arduous process for him. There were times when just having a simple catch was more than he could handle. He had been down this road before. Angered at himself by a strikeout against Tampa Bay in a meaningless September game the year before, Roberts cracked his bat against his helmet. The resulting concussion cost him the last three weeks of the season.
When it happened again, Roberts was devastated.
"There were times during recovery when the future looked so bleak," he said.
He called it the darkest period of his life.
Drafted by the Orioles in 1999, he had been a staple in the Baltimore lineup, a dependable presence at the top of the batting order. Now, he had all he could do to get through a day without discomfort.
Ever so slowly, the symptoms subsided. The 2011 season was lost, but Roberts hoped to come back this season. He had a Minor League rehab assignment, and then on June 12, it was time. Manager Buck Showalter penciled in Roberts into the leadoff spot against Pittsburgh.
After gathering himself following the standing ovation, Roberts lined a 3-2 pitch into center field for his first of three hits that night. He also had an RBI, and when it was over, he got the ceremonial pie in the face from his teammates. He didn't mind that celebratory ritual one bit, and he hopes it was just the first of many more of them.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.