BALTIMORE—Through no fault of his own, Brian Roberts was the best player on a series of losing Orioles teams. Roberts played 13 seasons with the Orioles, and only in the last two, when he was struggling with injuries, did the team win.
Roberts, who last played with the team in 2013 and is the only Oriole to play with both Cal Ripken Jr. and Manny Machado, was the most prominent player on many of those less-talented teams.
Before Saturday night’s game between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox, Roberts will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. On Friday, he talked about his identity on those teams early in this century.
“You certainly don’t sit in the locker room, and [say], ‘hey, man are you the face of the franchise or is it me?’ It’s kind of funny that you guys talk that way because we certainly don’t look at it that way.”
But Roberts, who’s now 41 and living in Sarasota, was thought of that way. Young Oriole fans, hungry for a hero, had his poster on their bedroom wall, but the rewards for an excellent career weren’t tangible.
Roberts played in two All-Star Games, and by the time manager Buck Showalter came to the Orioles in August 2010 and executive vice president Dan Duquette a year later, Roberts was no longer a player who led baseball in doubles with 56 in 2009.
Concussions and a serious hamstring injury limited Roberts to 192 games in his last four seasons with the Orioles, but he doesn’t express regrets.
“Thirteen years in the big leagues, I didn’t miss anything,” Roberts said.
In 2012, when the Orioles qualified for the postseason, Roberts was injured.
“I did see, to a certain extent, the culmination,” Roberts said. “I got to walk on the field for a playoff game. I couldn’t play in it, unfortunately. I got to see what it meant to this city. I had chills. I had goosebumps because I had never seen this place like that, and I’d been here a long time. I don’t feel like I missed out. I would have loved to ride in a cool little car down Pratt Street, but to feel like I missed out, absolutely not.”
Roberts is raising a family in Sarasota, but he’s involved with the Orioles as a part-time radio broadcaster and hinted that he may have a deeper involvement in the future.
He laments the loss of popular players in the current team’s rebuild.
“I was hoping Jonathan Schoop was going to be here and break every number I had at second base,” Roberts said. “I was hoping we’d see Manny play here for 15 or 20 years.
“You hear fans talk about it so passionately. It bothers them because they almost don’t like to get attached to players anymore, and that’s the difficult part. That’s why I was so blessed to be here for that long … I wish every player had the opportunity to do that. It’s just not that way with the business of the game anymore.”
Last month, Duquette announced the team’s rebuild. Roberts, whose teams were rarely contenders, found himself comparing his teams with today’s.
“It was never looked at it that way by any means,” Roberts said. “It was very different to me than it is right now. Where they say, it’s pretty obvious, ‘hey, we’re going to rebuild.’ We never really said it that much that I remember. They never said, ‘we’re rebuilding.’ Every year we went to spring training, we though we had a chance. That’s what we were trying to do.
“I think it’s hard for everybody to see us go in that direction again. Nobody wants to do that. That’s never the goal of the mindset of any time to do that. When you think about where Dan and Buck came in … where we were as an organization and that [five]-year run of really turning this thing around — playing in meaningful games and being in the hunt and being in the playoffs — you want that to continue, but baseball is cyclical.”
Roberts, who was one of the few Orioles to own a house in Baltimore City, understands Baltimore and its fans.
“This is a great sports town. We all know that,” Roberts said. “I don’t blame anybody for not spending their hard-earned money and watch us lose.
“The fan base is there. Watch in three years or four years, two years, when this team is in the playoffs again, this will be rocking with orange towels again.”