Brian Roberts returns to the Orioles’ lineup tonight in his usual roles of batting in the lead off spot and playing 2nd base. The last two years of Robert’s career have been anything but usual, however.
Officially, it will be a little less than 13 months since BRob last played a Major League game. On May 16, 2011, he suffered his second concussion in less than one year. The concussion left him too unhealthy to play until now. However, his struggles started much earlier. His 1st concussion came a year earlier when out of frustration after striking out, concussed himself by hitting his batting helmet with his own bat. He would miss the last week of the 2010 season with concussion symptoms. The 2010 season ended as disappointingly as it began for the 2nd baseman, who also missed most of April and July and all of May and June with a herniated disc in his back. While a 13 month journey back to the Majors is daunting enough, Brian’s road back as really been even longer than considering he hasn’t played a full season in almost 2 ½ years.
Even with all the other setbacks, it is Brian’s struggle with post-concussion symptoms that have been the biggest obstacle in his life these past two years and quite possibly the largest obstacle he has ever faced (I only say “possibly” because the poor guy also had a hole in his heart as a child that has to be surgically repaired). As a society, we know so little about concussions in general. What we do know – that they occur unpredictably and that they can effect some people more than others – only adds to the fogginess around the issue. There is no broken bone to see and no documented history of similar injuries to tell us precisely how long the recovery period should be. In this day and age, concussions are one of the few illnesses that are still such a mystery.
What know even less about the effects of concussions on baseball players. Jason Bay suffered a concussion running into the outfield wall in 2010. He missed about one-third of the season for the Mets but has struggled since returning as an everyday player. Whether that has anything to do with lingering effects from the concussion is merely speculation, but we simply don’t know enough to rule it out entirely. Justin Morneau suffered a concussion during a July 7, 2010 game for the Twins and missed the remainder of the season. His return in 2011 saw him plagued by a litany of unrelated health problems, before suffering a shoulder injury in late August that would lead to additional mild concussion-like symptoms. Like Bay, Morneau hasn’t been quite the same player post-concussion although again, it is difficult to know just how much of that regression can be pinned on the head trauma.
There were times over the past thirteen months where Roberts says he didn’t know if he’d ever play again. Far worse was the fear that he would never even be able to live a normal life again. Routine activities – like driving a car, looking at bright lights, or hearing loud noises – triggered headaches and other post-concussion symptoms. For that reason alone, it is truly amazing that he has made it this far back and is just hours away from returning to the baseball field. Remember, this is a guy that had to cancel an appearance at Orioles’ Fan Fest in January because all of that activity – the lights, the sounds, the interactions with fans and players – was decidedly too much for him to handle (a decision, like all of his decisions the past 13 months, that was made jointly by Roberts and his doctors). The fact that he is well enough, as proven by his 14-game Minor League rehab stint, to step back onto a Major League field just six months later is remarkable.
Like most O’s fans, I assumed Roberts would never play another inning for the team. I am thrilled to have my assumption proven wrong. How good of a player Roberts will be – he is now 35 and has had a grand total of 408 plate appearances over the course of the last two and one-third seasons – is unknown, but quite frankly, it is also unimportant. At least for now. Tonight is about one of the more revered Orioles of the past twenty years overcoming some serious hurdles to get back to work and back to life as “normal”. That in itself is worthy of celebration. We can leave the discussions on Roberts current playing ability to another day.
Despite the less than ideal weather, we will be out there tonight to welcome BRob home. Hopefully the weather won’t keep too many people away from doing the same.
Here is a good article on Roberts’ struggles with post-concussion symptoms written by friend of Orioles Observer, Jon Pitts: “After concussions shattered a season, Oriole Brian Roberts sees recovery ahead”