Soon after Brian Roberts returned to the active roster of the Baltimore Orioles, he got a text of congratulations from Ray Tanner, his former baseball coach at South Carolina.
“I still talk to coach Tanner,” said Roberts, 35, prior to a game earlier this week against the Texas Rangers. “I sat with him at the Michigan-USC Outback Bowl game. I try to keep my ties there. Everyone was so good to me there. It is a place I will always call my alma mater.”
Roberts played three years at North Carolina before he transferred to USC for his senior year, after his father, Mike, was let go by UNC after a long stint as the Tar Heels’ coach. Roberts led the nation in steals with 67 and hit .353 with 12 homers in his season with the Gamecocks.
Roberts was drafted by the Orioles in 1999 and worked his way up the minor league ladder before he made his Major League debut in 2001 as a switch-hitting second baseman.
He made the All-Star team for the first time in 2005 and again in 2007. He led the American League in doubles with 56 in 2009 but the most games he has played in a season since then is 59 in 2010.
Roberts was on the DL twice last year (concussion and right groin strain) and had hip surgery on Aug. 2, 2012. He spent a lot of time doing rehab at the Orioles’ spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla.
On June 30, he was activated from the DL and that day collected his first hit at Camden Yards since June 29, 2012.
The Orioles returned to Baltimore to face the Texas Rangers and Roberts, a longtime leadoff hitter when he was healthy, was in the lineup at DH in the No. 8 spot in the order on Monday. He also made some starts at second base.
“I think things have gone pretty well for the most part,” said Roberts, who hit .233 in his first 43 at bats this season over 13 games with one homer. “Buck has slowly worked me in here and there. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t DHed for a living loves it. At the same time, I want to be part of the team.”
“I like the idea of Brian anywhere,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told The Baltimore Sun. “I like him being in the lineup. Some things will fluctuate. We’re not married to it.”
Being a DH instead of playing second is not something that he is used to. Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla have gotten most of the starts at second this year.
In some ways, this is like spring training — or at least early April — for Roberts in terms of being used to facing Major League pitching.
“It is good and bad. It is good because you are in the middle of a playoff race,” he said. “At the same time, you are expected to jump in and expect to be in mid-season form against guys that have been playing all year.”
Roberts is one of several USC ties to the Orioles. Veteran outfielder Steve Pearce was on the DL as of July 8 but hit .235 with three homers in 81 at-bats. Minor leaguer Christian Walker is hitting around .290 for high Class A Frederick of the Carolina League.
“I have heard some really good things. Everyone in the organization seems to like him as a hitter,” Roberts said of Walker, whom he saw last year while on a rehab stint with Aberdeen in the New York-Penn League.
Pearce played for three teams in 2012 and he and his wife had their first child late in the season. Roberts and his wife, Diana, who were married in 2009, are expecting their first child and he has talked to Pearce about fatherhood.
“He has had some very big at-bats for us,” Roberts said of Pearce. “He is a guy you can put out there against lefties and do some damage. I know last year was so hard moving around so many times.”
Roberts knows what it is like to be in and out of the Orioles’ clubhouse.
What is the best part about being back? “More than anything, it has been the ability to get back with the team and be one of the guys. They have all embraced me really well coming off a tough year,” he said. “I am not trying to look at results after 10 games. I am hoping it continues to get better. For now, it is going very well.”