Brian Roberts returns to the new and improved Baltimore Orioles

After taking himself out of action with a pair of self-inflicted concussions in May of 2011, Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts came back to an unfamiliar situation - a ballclub battling to stay in first place. Photo: AP/Patrick Semansky

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 — It took a whole year and then 28 more days. Exactly 162 games, a full season’s worth, since the player who is the face of the Baltimore Orioles had taken the field during a live game.  Over 20 months since Brian Roberts had smacked himself in the helmet with a bat after striking out. A whole lifetime had seemed to pass for the Orioles since their long-time starting second baseman had nearly ended his career when he slammed his head into first base at Fenway Park while making one of his trademark headfirst dives, adding a second severe concussion to the first.

Thirteen dark months were mere talking points on Tuesday night, however, as Roberts returned triumphantly to second base and the leadoff batting spot, going 3-for-4 with a trio of singles and an RBI in Baltimore’s 8-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. His traditional drive to gain the next base at all costs was notably absent, but that was to be expected from a player who wasn’t sure of he’d ever be able to function normally again, let alone play baseball. 

If a dramatic return wasn’t enough, Roberts also found himself in a foreign position on the only team he had ever played for in the majors. Since he made his major-league debut in 2001, the Orioles had never cracked .500 or finished higher than third in the AL East. But when he returned after a year away, he came back to a team sitting at 34-26 that had only recently slipped from first to second place in their division.

Much of the first two-plus months of the 2012 baseball season has been devoted to figuring what new factor is making the surprising Orioles tick. The two biggest reasons: the longball and late-game firemen. Roberts has never fit into either of those categories, and he can return to a level anywhere near when he was stealing 30-40 bases a year, he will provide a much-needed dimension to a two-trick show.

Since his first full season in 2004, Roberts has been a model of consistency, one of few constants, and perhaps the only positive constant, for the Orioles. His injury in May of 2011 appeared potentially career-ending for a time, and fueled speculation that Baltimore would finally completely teardown and start afresh.

Rather, his struggle was a rallying point for a similarly struggling ballclub. Even as the Orioles continued down a path that eventually took them to their fifth-straight last-place finish, Roberts was becoming a source of hope.

Some teams, enjoying rare success, might be tempted to jettison a player whose tentative return might upset the ingrained order of things. When said player is on the wrong side of 30 (Roberts is 34) and working his way back from a life-altering injury that temptation is all the greater.

Instead, Robert Andino shuffled into a utility role to make way for a triumphant return. Roberts would be the first to say that one game doesn’t make a hero but lifting his Orioles to a valuable win was the best return anyone could have hoped for.

A return to normality in the midst of irregularity means that a player’s fortunes will always bounce up and down. In his second game back, Brian Roberts went 0-for-5 and struck out twice. But twin truths were still present: the Orioles continued their winning ways, 7-1, and B-Rob was back, ready to put the persistent drive of 2009 into the startling success of 2012.

 


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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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