A View From Studio 3: Roberts deserves playoff chance
By now you know the story lines. And they are compelling. The Dodgers' in-season rebound under Don Mattingly, the Pirates ending a decades-long drought and finally posting a winning record and the Red Sox bouncing back from an embarrassing situation one year ago to post perhaps the best record in baseball.
Great stories. All of them. And they may get even better before the end of the postseason. But they're not the only stories worth telling.
There's an individual tale that likely won't get much national attention unless the Baltimore Orioles play deep into October. It involves the soon-to-be 36-year-old second baseman Brian Roberts, a former first-round Draft pick in 1999. Fourteen years later, Roberts ranks fifth in the Majors on a very impressive list: the most games played by a player still with the team that drafted him.
Derek Jeter tops the list with 2,602 games played for the Yankees. Rockies veteran Todd Helton, who announced his impending retirement Saturday night, ranks second. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins follows. Mets captain David Wright is next and then Roberts, with 1,316 games played for the Orioles entering Baltimore's series vs. the Red Sox on Tuesday.
But Roberts is the only one in that group who has never appeared in a postseason game. This drought may come to an end in a few weeks.
But as I learned upon talking to Roberts recently, that missing piece to his baseball resume was not of great concern for a stretch of time.
A few years back, Roberts was an elite leadoff man, a doubles machine. He knew how to get on base, he knew how to steal a base. And he knew all about playing, year in and year out, on a losing team. Roberts' prime years coincided with lean years in Baltimore. When he debuted in 2001, the Orioles were already a few seasons into a 14-year stretch that produced zero winning seasons and no postseason appearances. He pressed on, consistently productive.
Then in 2010, Roberts suffered a strained abdomen, the first significant injury in his Major League career. Roberts missed 91 games. A few months later he suffered a concussion when, out of frustration, he hit himself in the helmet with a bat. Months of misery followed -- then another concussion the following season. Baseball was not high of list priorites.
Roberts says, "There were a lot of days I wasn't sure if I'd been a productive human being at times."
He says he's fortunate and blessed to be back on the field. Roberts didn't know if he'd ever play again in front of the Camden Yards fans. He missed hundreds of games. This is a player who was a mainstay in the Orioles' lineup for seven seasons. But now he couldn't get his body or head right.
Roberts' story sounds familiar. Concussions in sports is a hot topic. It's all over the news. But the conversations usually center on injuries suffered in football and hockey. But as the medical field makes advances in head injury research and treatment, baseball teams are taking the necessary precautions to ensure their players don't return to action too soon after suffering from brain trauma.
"There was a three-to-four-month span where I didn't really leave the couch a whole lot and any time I got active I'd get dizzy and really bad headaches," Roberts said.
He was just trying to be a good husband, he says. Trying to survive everyday life. Baseball was the furthest thing from his mind for a while.
In the last few months, Roberts became a father for the first time. He also returned to the Orioles. Two events worth celebrating. He's healthy and happy to be back and in a race for the postseason for the first time in his career.
In a few weeks, Roberts may be a part of meaningful October baseball. A few weeks after that, he becomes a free agent. Asked if he'll take into account the support provided by the Orioles organization during his struggles, he says:
"One-hundred percent. If they want me back here, I would sign back here in a heartbeat. This is my home. The only place I've ever known."
But he understands that might not happen.
"If it didn't work out and it happened to be somewhere else then I would be thankful for all the years I've had here, but this is certainly where I would love to stay," Roberts said.
If you made your own list of active players who deserve a shot at postseason glory, Roberts would be near the top.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.