SARASOTA, Fla. — No one expected Brian Roberts to throw down the gauntlet on Friday and set a date for his return to the Orioles lineup. No one, really, expected any hard answers about his recovery from multiple concussions. It's not that kind of thing.
The finish line is a moving target, so the most Roberts was willing to say during his news briefing after the Orioles' first full-squad workout on Friday was that he is getting closer to it -- if only inch by inch – and he is encouraged by his recent progress.
That probably doesn't come as optimum news to Orioles fans desperate for all that a healthy Roberts would bring to the 2012 edition of their team, but it might be time to look at the situation from a slightly more pragmatic angle.
We've probably reached the point where whatever Roberts is able to do this season is more than the Orioles or their fans have any right to expect. It's pretty obvious, when you consider what he has gone through, that the likelihood of him showing up in the leadoff spot on Opening Day and playing 150 games this year is relatively low.
"I can't go that far,'' Roberts said. "I don't go backwards any more, and I don't go too far forward. At this point, I wake up, and it's Friday morning, and that's today, and I say, 'this is going to be a great day. I'm going to do everything that they allow me to do today and tomorrow morning -- Saturday morning --I'm going to do the same thing. If that results in me being in Baltimore on April 6, I will be grateful, for sure. If that ends up being some other day, then so be it, but at this point, I take it day-by-day, as cliche as that is. That's probably what we all should do in life, but at this point, that's what I do."
Roberts took the field with his teammates on Friday for stretching and light throwing, then returned to the clubhouse complex to continue with his rehab progression, which is determined on a day-to-day basis in consultation with his doctors.
It has been nine months since a head-first slide into first base in Boston touched off a new and much more intense set of concussion symptoms that have turned his career and his life upside-down. There are just six weeks remaining until Opening Day and he is still limited in his baseball activities to hitting off a tee and playing light catch. Draw your own conclusions.
The team went into this past offseason preparing for both the possibility that Roberts would be back in the everyday lineup soon and the possibility that he won't be back at all. Manager Buck Showalter knows how much Roberts could mean to the Orioles' chances of having a respectable season, but he also knows that even the finish line isn't really the finish line in a case such as this.
"If it happens, it will be a big kick in the pants in a positive way, but who knows what happens a week after he comes back and plays,'' he said. "I don't know. I'm trying to move forward on both sides of it."
Roberts doesn't want anybody to feel sorry for him. He's going to be fine with baseball or without it, but no one should think he's going through the motions. Nobody does the things he has done in the game without a burning desire to be out there every day, so the frustration associated with this kind of uncertainty must be tremendous.
"I think that's probably the hardest part,'' he said. "I didn't think I'd ever go though a harder injury than I did in '05. When I walked off that field in '05, I didn't think I'd ever experience anything worse, but once I had the surgery, I had a timeline. Essentially once I was done with the surgery, I knew
within six or eight or ten months, I'd probably be feeling good. With this, there is no timeline. That's hard mentally, that they can't tell you. It could disappear every day. More likely, it's going to be a progression."
He would love to be able to tell everyone —his manager, his teammates, the fans— what they want to hear. He would like to put a big orange circle around April 6 on his Orioles wall calendar and know that there is a date certain for this long nightmare to be over.
It's just not that kind of thing.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.
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