Roberts returns to All-Star Game
Recovered from injury, second baseman earns trip to SF
BALTIMORE -- Brian Roberts is back in the All-Star Game and back from the devastating injury that sapped his power last season. Roberts, who dislocated his left elbow at the end of his last All-Star campaign, played his way back into shape in 2006 amid questions on whether he'd ever break out again. One year later, the answer appears to be an emphatic yes.
Roberts was voted into the All-Star Game on Sunday -- which will be held July 10 in San Francisco's AT&T Park -- by his peers, a fitting honor based on his performance thus far and a fitting coda to his long road back to recovery.
"Any time you get put in that class, it's an honor," Roberts said after Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Angels. "I feel very blessed and fortunate, especially coming off of 2005. I had no idea if I'd ever make it back to being able to play at that level again.
"It's nice to kind of prove that to yourself and realize that you can get back."
The stats tell the whole story. Roberts went into Sunday's game ranked first among his positional peers in on-base percentage (.412) and second in batting average (.326). As if that's not enough of a case, only one other American League second baseman with at least 200 at-bats had a higher slugging mark (.454). Roberts also leads the league with 25 stolen bases.
Twenty-one months after a career-threatening injury, Roberts can see tangible results that he's back to where he started.
"I feel like I am the same guy," he said. "Everybody will look at home runs and blah, blah blah. I could still hit 10 in a month. Home runs vary for everybody every year. But when it boils down to the entire player, yeah, I think I am the same player I was."
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
Roberts has been a steady presence at the top of the lineup for Baltimore the last few seasons, but he's rarely mentioned as the team's biggest star. That honor generally goes to shortstop Miguel Tejada, a four-time All-Star who recently went on the disabled list with a fracture in his left wrist. With Tejada out of All-Star consideration, the doorway opened for Roberts.
"Brian Roberts is the guy that makes it go on our club," said interim manager Dave Trembley. "His evaluation as far as an All-Star player should not have been determined because of the injury that he had. I think you're seeing the [real] Brian Roberts the second year back, and that's very similar to what you see with most guys that come back from arm injuries.
"I told Brian Roberts that if I were a dad and I was bringing my son to a game, I'd pay to watch him play. That's what I think of him as a baseball player and that's what I think of him on this team."
The switch-hitter was never known as a power hitter as he rose through Baltimore's organization, but he showed quite a bit of pop in 2005. Roberts hit 18 home runs and slugged .515 that season -- more than 100 points higher than any full-season stop in his career -- en route to his first All-Star Game. But then came the injury, which required reconstructive surgery.
Roberts spent most of that winter rehabbing, and he showed up in 2006 without having done his usual weightlifting. That resulted in a loss of functional strength, and the former first-round pick actually got stronger as the season wore on. It took Roberts 55 games to hit his first home run last season, and he hit nine in the second half -- tied for second-most on the team over that span.
"It took a long time to get healthy," he recalled. "I think this winter when I was fully in my workout program, that's when I realized it was on its way back. I was able to do some of the stuff that I used to do. So it was a very gradual process, and that has to translate into baseball terms at some point, which it's finally starting to do."
This year, he's had every element of his game working. Roberts remains an above-average defensive player and has batted .361 in road games this season. After starting slowly in April, he batted .385 in May and .340 in June. But even as he thrives at the highest level of the game, he knows that things easily could've gone the other way for him.
"When you go through the rehabilitation and stuff, the injury feels like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it was 10 years ago," Roberts said. "The road was long coming back. I certainly am very appreciative of where I am at this point and the doctors and the trainers. I am very blessed and fortunate to be able to bounce back from that like I have been able to."
"I think he plays the game the right way," Trembley said. "I think it's a credit to him, the coaches and the training staff, because he had a potential career-ending injury that he's come back from. I've watched him play, and I think he's an All-Star player."
Roberts, who went through the All-Star experience in 2005, said it will be different without other teammates around him. Baltimore cruised into the All-Star break as contenders that year, and Roberts was joined by Tejada, Melvin Mora and B.J. Ryan. This year -- for the sixth time in the last seven seasons -- the Orioles will have only one All-Star.
When asked how he'd do things differently this time aroud, Roberts said he'd try to manufacture some digital memories.
"Videotape everything," he said. "My parents had bought me a video camera before the game, and somehow I got there and it wasn't charged or something. I went out to the Home Run Derby and I had nothing. I am looking forward to taking it all in. Everything goes so fast the first time and you don't realize everything that is going on.
"But this time, I think I'll have a little more chance to slow down and take it in."
With Tejada injured, the infielder's chief competition for an All-Star nod came from starting pitchers Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie. Bedard, the staff ace, has gone 6-4 with a 3.36 ERA and leads the Major Leagues with 129 strikeouts. Guthrie has been even better, notching a 4-2 record with a 2.63 ERA in his first 96 innings this season.
"It's fun to have been considered, and fun that you guys would even ask that question. It's fun to be able to have a first half that allowed consideration," Guthrie said. "If you look around, there's a number of starters that are having a big year. It's just good to be considered, and hopefully I can keep pitching well in the second half."
"They've pitched like All-Stars," added pitching coach Leo Mazzone. "In the first half, they've been two of the best pitchers in the American League. Being involved in that process five times, it's very difficult. No matter who you pick, somebody is going to get bumped that's deserving. But certainly those two have pitched to All-Star-caliber status. That's for sure."
The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers -- become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season -- in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.