ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — — When Brian Roberts flew back to Baltimore for an epidural March 15, even the most optimistic Orioles fans had to wonder whether the team's second baseman and leadoff hitter would be back in time to play on Opening Day.
Roberts himself wondered whether he could overcome the pain in the herniated disk in his back.
But he made it, leading off the Orioles' season Tuesday by flying out to left field on the first pitch of the game from the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields.
"I feel blessed just to have the opportunity to be here because I had no idea a couple weeks ago, a month ago, where I'd be," Roberts said before Tuesday's opener.
The epidural worked, but Roberts was limited to six spring games and 19 at-bats, getting just four hits (.211 average). Still, he said, it was enough for him to feel ready for the season to begin, and he won't be doing anything differently or more carefully because of the back issue.
"Opening Day is always the best you feel - doesn't matter if you're healthy or unhealthy," Roberts said. "The adrenaline starts kicking, the lights come on and nothing hurts for one day."
Orioles manager Dave Trembley said Roberts told him from the beginning that he could overcome the pain to be in the Opening Day lineup, and Trembley took the veteran at his word.
"I was confident he was going to be ready. He told me he would be, and we didn't really get too excited when he wasn't playing in the beginning," Trembley said. "He's played for an awful long time. [He] knows what he needs to do in order to get himself ready, and he did."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail acknowledges that he was a bit concerned even though he was given no indication he should be.
"At no point did our medical staff tell us he won't be ready," MacPhail said. "It got to the stage where I was starting to worry about it, but they never said, 'You better start working on Plan B.' "
O's still lagging internationally
According to Major League Baseball's annual list, there are 231 foreign-born players on 25-man rosters and disabled lists to start the season; 27.7 percent of all major league players were not born in the United States.
The Orioles have five foreign-born players: Cesar Izturis (Venezuela), Felix Pie, Julio Lugo and Miguel Tejada (Dominican Republic) and Koji Uehara (Japan).
What's alarming is that the Orioles have discovered and produced just two of the 231 on that overall list, Erik Bedard (a Canadian who was eligible for the amateur draft) and Uehara (signed as a big league free agent). None of the 86 Dominican-born players in the majors, for instance, started with the Orioles.
That could be changing in the near future. Of the players on the organization's 40-man roster, 10 were born outside the country, including three Dominican minor leaguers: pitchers Wilfrido Perez and Luis Lebron and infielder Pedro Florimon Jr.
Tejada's streak ends
While with the Houston Astros, Miguel Tejada
finished the 2009 season with a 21-game hitting streak. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, a hit in Tuesday's game would have made Tejada just the third player to have a streak of 20 or more games spread between two leagues. The others were Tom Mansell
, who hit in 21 straight in the same season for Detroit and St. Louis in 1883, and Edgar Renteria
, who hit in 24 consecutive for Boston in 2005 and Atlanta in 2006.
Tejada failed to reach the milestone, however, going 0-for-5.
Around the horn
First pitch was at 7:11 p.m. ... Orioles center fielder Adam Jones
had the first Orioles hit of 2010, a double to center. ... Kevin Millwood
recorded the first strikeout by fanning Evan Longoria
in the first inning. ... This is the fourth time the teams have opened a season against each other. The Orioles were 2-1 in the other games. ... Admiral Eric Thor Olson
, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and a former Navy SEAL, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.