For Roberts, health key in next chapter with Yanks
Veteran second baseman, former Oriole in first season with New York
TAMPA, Fla. -- The boxes are piled high in the garage of Brian Roberts' home down in Sarasota filled with orange T-shirts, wristbands and spikes; all of which might be perfectly usable, but would clash jarringly when worn with Yankees pinstripes.
Roberts is planning to donate that game-worn gear to children at some point, but that project will have to wait. Roberts currently has his hands full adjusting to a new chapter with the Yankees, where his most important assignment is to stay healthy.
"My expectation is hopefully to play as much as they want me to play," Roberts said. "As I said early in camp, I take it one day at a time. I've been through enough to not go out there and try to make predictions, give people expectations. My job is to prepare every day and hopefully be ready to play."
A career Oriole until this spring, Roberts acknowledged that it would feel different looking into the opposing dugout and seeing orange across the way. He got a first taste of that sensation on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, and there are no shortage of matchups with Baltimore during the regular season.
"I'm happy for him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's in a good place in his life in a lot of ways. I'm glad it worked out well for everybody. He's in a good place; wish it had been somewhere else. I wish it was in the National League, but those things happen. He's in a good spot. I'm happy or him -- he and his wife and everybody."
Roberts said that he had one conversation about staying in Baltimore near the tail end of 2013, but those talks with the Orioles did not progress. The Yankees were preparing for Robinson Cano's departure and discussed Roberts at the Winter Meetings, and he eventually agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal that includes numerous incentives.
"I had some expectation that [Baltimore] might be where I ended up if I wanted to play," Roberts said. "It just didn't happen that way. It's part of the business. I think maybe they decided to go in another direction, and it became time to realize it was time to move on."
Roberts has missed 445 games over the last four seasons, losing time to concussions, hip, hamstring and abdominal injuries. But he wrapped up 2013 healthy, and that gives the Yankees optimism that Roberts will be able to play an uninterrupted season on their side.
"I don't know about 150 games, but I think it's safe to say if he performs the way we think he's capable of performing, we're going to play him as much as we can with keeping him on the field and him not getting hurt," manager Joe Girardi said.
Roberts said that he will look back fondly on his Orioles tenure, saying that the highlight was being present for the team's 2012 playoff games; a year in which he was limited to just 17 games and could not play in the postseason.
"That's what we all want, that's what our goal is, to play in meaningful games in October or September," Roberts said. "It took us a long time to get to that point. Ideally, I would have liked to have been on the field and playing, but to be able to experience it and get to see that atmosphere -- see the city and that fan base rally around [us] the way they did, it was pretty cool."
It was a treat after playing in so many games against division rivals where Oriole Park at Camden Yards sounded and acted more like a southern version of Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
"It's hard to feel like you're playing a road game at home, especially against a team you really need to be able to beat and compete against in order to get where you want to get to," Roberts said.
"It was frustrating, but I've told people over and over again: if you don't win games, I'm not expecting people to spend their hard-earned money to come out and watch. I understand it 100 percent. We weren't winning, so I didn't blame them."
With the Yankees, Roberts is adapting to being a complementary piece in a star-studded clubhouse. He and Derek Jeter are building on a friendship forged during the World Baseball Classic, but Roberts got a reality check this week when his wife, Diana, received a quizzical glance from a security person at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
"She said, 'That was so odd for me,'" Roberts said. "Usually, they're like, 'You're Brian's wife.' It's just different to be the guy in the back that nobody cares about or knows about."
That would be overstating the case, if you were to ask Girardi or general manager Brian Cashman, who both have a vested interest in Roberts' progress. With fingers crossed, the Yankees are counting on Roberts to reward that faith.
"They just want me to be on the field with a uniform on, for the most part," Roberts said, with a laugh. "The rest is icing on the cake."