TAMPA, Fla. — Brian Roberts will be in the starting lineup when the Orioles open the regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. To hear him tell it, he'll be in there the next night and the night after that and Opening Day at Camden Yards and
You get the idea. Roberts is treating the start of the season as business as usual, though everyone knows that it isn't.
He arrived at camp in February and revealed he had suffered a slightly herniated disk in his lower back during an offseason workout. He worked for weeks to get into position to play. He recently joined the everyday exhibition lineup. He's back, he's playing hard and he doesn't want to hear a discouraging word.
"I have no reason to believe I won't be able to do what I normally do," Roberts said on Friday.
That has been his mantra from Day One, but let's not fool ourselves. He may be playing right now as though he doesn't have a care in the world. He may have legged out a double the other day and slid hard into second base with no visible ill effect. He may look like he is playing without pain, but -- trust me -- the 2010 season is going to be another huge physical challenge.
He doesn't want to come right out and say that, but he does not deny that his back is still sore and is still an issue as the Orioles embark on what everyone in the clubhouse hopes is a bounce-back season.
"At this point, it's just one of the things I just deal with," Roberts said. "We have a great training staff that does a great job helping me stay on the field. As long as the doctors say, 'We don't think it's anything where you can hurt yourself,' I'll play."
Mind you, he's not saying he'll muddle along. When Roberts says "I'll play," he means that he'll play like Brian Roberts every day, and he doesn't want to hear about taking the third day of the opening series off because of the pounding he might take on that artificial turf at Tropicana Field.
"I don't see any reason why I wouldn't [play every game]," he said. "It's a dirt infield the last time I checked."
Roberts actually is looking at the opening of the regular season as some kind of elixir for what is ailing him.
"Sure I'm excited," he said. "I won't feel the pain as much. I'm trying to look at all the positives. I'm going to try not to focus on the bad part. I'm hoping and praying it just starts to go away. I still think that's a possibility. I'm not giving up hope that I won't feel 100 percent in two weeks but I've also started seasons at 100 percent and felt 70 percent two weeks later."
Like last year, when Roberts battled through a series of nagging illnesses and injuries early in the season and took some criticism because there were times when he couldn't hide the fatigue. But when the season was over, he had delivered another typical performance, setting a major league record for doubles by a switch hitter with 56. He also became only the fourth player to have three seasons with 50 or more, joining Hall of Famers Tris Speaker, Paul Waner and Stan Musial.
"At some point during the year, you're going to play hurt,'' Roberts said. "You always have stretches like that for one reason or another. Last year, it was a combination of things including losing. It's not always predicated on how your body feels."
Everybody knows he's a gamer. He came back quickly from a horrible elbow injury a few years ago to re-establish himself as one of the best leadoff men in the sport. He is going to go out there unless somebody tackles him on the way out of the dugout. But manager Dave Trembley knows that there are going to be times when the team needs to tie him to a chair.
"Brian is at the top of the list as far as being valuable to this club," Trembley said. "He means so much to us that we have to have a realistic plan to keep him as fresh as we possibly can from the beginning to the end of the season."
That's why the Orioles made the deal on Thursday for veteran middle infielder Julio Lugo, who will spell both Roberts and shortstop Cesar Izturis. Lugo is insurance against an extended absence by either of them, but Roberts was pretty direct when he was asked if the added depth would remove the burden of feeling like he has to play 15 games in a row.
"I'm going to play 15 games in a row no matter who's here," Roberts said. "We've always had capable players who can play if you can't play. Lugo is a good player, but I don't think you have anybody here you don't think can play."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail listens to a recount of Roberts comments and Trembley's reaction and smiles.
"I'm happy that Brian said what he said and I'm happy Dave said what he said," MacPhail said. "So I guess that means I'm happy."
Roberts just might get his wish and play every game at Tropicana Field, but he probably won't play every game of the opening series at Camden Yards. His first day off likely will come next Sunday, when the O's play a day game after a night game, but he probably will want to be out there.
"I'm glad he wants tothat's great,'' Trembley said. "[But] you know the way he plays. He plays reckless. He puts his body through a lot. We're trying to do what we can to look out for his best interests."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.