SARASOTA, Fla. — Brian Roberts' long road of recovery from multiple concussions will take him with the Orioles' travel party when spring training camp breaks next week, he said Monday. But the second baseman will still begin the season on the disabled list.
The latter isn't a surprise. Roberts hasn't played in a spring game at any level this year. And he's just begun to incorporate game-day activities — like taking pregame ground balls, hitting batting practice and watching games from the dugout — into his routine. But joining the team in Baltimore will be a major test for his recovery, because he must adapt to all the sensory moments — among them large crowds and loud music — as well as the rigors of traveling with the team.
"My doctor thought it was really very important to be in that environment as much as possible," Roberts said. "(They) are all things he's had guys have difficulty with in the past. You go through a rehab assignment down here and you're in a very controlled environment — same time, same place, not many people around. And you can get acclimated to that but then when you go into that other atmosphere, it's a whole different ballgame."
Roberts was formally placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday — which suggests there is optimism he will play within the first two months of the season. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said placing Roberts on the 60-day DL remains a possibility, but "we're not at that point yet."
"It's another step for him," Showalter said. "You think about how the environment will change if he stayed here. He has been through this before. It is kind of like sending a guy back to the Gulf Coast League for the second year in a row where you know what's going on. It is a good step for him. He'll be there with his teammates and with the club. He has been away from that environment for a long time."
Shortly after landing on the disabled list last May, Roberts left the team and went to Sarasota, where he makes his offseason home, to begin his recovery, but now the next step is about getting the 34-year-old Roberts re-adjusted to the game.
"I told Buck the other day, 'You don't know how excited you've made me to know I don't have to start down here and be isolated from everybody,'" Roberts said. "That was part of the miserable aspect to it last year. Last year, it was very important for me to be down here and get away from the craziness. Now it's important for me to get back in the craziness. I guess the good part [is] that's the difference in where I am in the recovery process."
Roberts said there's still no timetable on a possible return, but called it the biggest step yet in his recovery.
"Every day is a bigger step than the day before, so I would definitely say so," Roberts said. "My doctor thinks this is a huge step in the process. Being in those environments and when you have these sort of brain injuries, when your schedule is thrown off and your sleep is mixed up and your time schedule is mixed up, all those things are things you have to get used to all over again."
For the past week, Roberts has been watching portions of home Grapefruit League games at Ed Smith Stadium from the dugout. He said he has yet to watch an entire game, but he said that is mainly because he's also been busy doing his own work on the Ed Smith complex back fields.
"We started here with 10,000 [people in attendance], which had been good," he said. "It's been a very well thought-out and a very good process so I didn't have to jump into 30,000 or 40,000. You do 10,000 here. If 40,000 are there, maybe I only watch three innings that night and watch the rest in the clubhouse, but it will be all well thought out. Hopefully, it won't take too long to get reacclimated to that environment."
As for traveling with the team, Roberts said he is tentatively scheduled to join the Orioles on the first two legs of the season in mid-April, going to Toronto and Chicago, but he's not slated to continue with the team for the last leg in Anaheim.
Roberts said once he gets approval from his doctors, he would go on a rehab assignment — either in Sarasota or in the minors — before he joins the team for games. For Roberts, who has missed 226 games the past two seasons, it is a major step forward — even though no timetable for a return exists. But at least now, the road to recovery seems to be one step shorter.
"I think we're on a constant evaulation process still," he said. "We have no dates, so I don't think that not putting me on the 60 is necessarily guaranteeing me that I'll be back in two months, but I don't think we're conceding that it won't happen either."