All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts talks about his game
Interview By Chad Zimmerman
Brian Roberts had a breakout season in 2005 with the Baltimore Orioles. Besting his previous career-high batting average by 50 points, Roberts hit .314 and belted 18 homers—six more than in his previous four seasons combined. Earning his first trip to the All-Star Game, Roberts and teammate Miguel Tejada became only the third middle infield duo in league history to start in the same game.
Roberts was the top-rated defensive player out of college, but it took some time for him to reach his full potential in the big show. And now, he is more than willing to share his experiences, expertise and some of his favorites.
STACK: How do you explain your great success last season?
Roberts: It’s a combination of many factors. Everybody matures and grows into the kind of player they’re supposed to be at different times. For me, it took a couple years in the league to get comfortable and to understand my job and role. When we traded Jerry Hairston— who also played second—to the Cubs for Sammy [Sosa], it freed up my mind and opened it to the possibility that I would be playing every day. Even if I went 0-4, I’d still be in the lineup the next day. My workout program and training at Athletes’ Performance for the past four years has also made a huge difference.
STACK: What was the hardest part about adjusting to the pro game?
Roberts: There are two steps to getting into pro baseball. The first is the jump from college to the minor leagues, which are two completely different lifestyles. In the minors, you play with a wood bat instead of a metal one, you play more games, you travel a lot more and you have more freedom.
Then there’s the jump from the minors to the big leagues, which brings another set of huge changes. Now you deal with playing in front of more people, more demands on your time and more travel—all things to which you have to adjust. Sometimes it takes awhile to get comfortable.
STACK: What was difficult about playing in front of more people?
Roberts: I think at first you’re afraid of failing in front of that many people. But you conquer those fears once you realize you’re playing the same game you’ve always played.
Now I don’t really think about the crowd. Actually, I can’t imagine not playing in front of them. We’re disappointed when the crowd is small. So once you get adjusted to the bigger crowd, you start to feel the adrenaline.
STACK: Tell us about your on-field chemistry with Miguel Tejada.
Roberts: You can’t build it; it develops over time through playing together. The first year was a learning process for both of us. Then last year we were both very comfortable with what each other did, our ranges, where we like the ball given to us to turn double plays. You learn these things over time.
STACK: What is it like playing with Tejada?
Roberts: He’s so laid back and has fun no matter what, which has helped me, because I’m more of a serious person on the field. When a batter hits the ball up the middle or we’re losing, he talks to me, keeps me up. He’s fun to play with, which is great because the season is so long.
STACK: Was it difficult building camaraderie with the guys on the team?
Roberts: Any time you are on a new team, the first year is a learning and feeling-out process of your teammates, the organization and the city. Over time, though, you develop friendships and become more relaxed around the guys. Your team is your family when you’re on the road 81 days of the year. People are always going out, getting something to eat and hanging out. They are the people you trust. It just takes time to get used to playing with a new team.
STACK: What’s the funniest thing you’ve witnessed while playing in the Majors?
Roberts: One thing everybody looks forward to is dressing the rookies up at the end of the season. They have to fly on the plane in ridiculous costumes. Grown men in dresses are pretty funny.
STACK: What did you have to wear?
Roberts: I had to wear a Hooters uniform in New York City—not one of my finer moments, but definitely funny. These types of things make professional sports more fun. We’re grown men who get to act like kids and get away with it.
STACK: What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen in the dugout?
Roberts: The funniest stuff was in the minors. Stupid stuff like putting bubble gum on the bottom of a cup and sticking it on someone’s hat. Guys would run out of the dugout and have no idea. Then they’d be in the middle of the field with a cup on their head.
STACK: What do you do after you commit an error?
Roberts: You have to shake off an error no matter what. The best thing is just to say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna get the next ground ball hit to me, make a play, and we’ll turn two and be out of it.’ You can’t think negatively, but instead, ‘Hit me another one and I’ll make the play.’ That’s something you have to do in baseball. You’re going to fail seven out of 10 times at bat, and you’re going to make errors. It’s the nature of the game, so you have to stay positive.
STACK: When you’re in a hitting slump, what can you do to get out of it?
Roberts: When you’re in a slump, wasting at-bats is one of the worst mistakes—swinging at bad pitches and trying too hard. I’ve learned to relax and have good at-bats every time I’m in the box. When you do that, you eventually come out of the slump.
I’ve also learned to not beat myself up as much as I used to. Over the course of the season, you have hot streaks and cold streaks. But you have to stay positive. They call it a batting average because it’s an overall look at where you are. You don’t base it off 30 at-bats. You take the whole season and grind it out.
STACK: What advice do you have for high school athletes?
Roberts: When I was in high school, I took the games too seriously and was too hard on myself sometimes. You have to enjoy playing, because your career comes and goes so fast. You want to look back and realize that you enjoyed your time playing and that you didn’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s supposed to be fun. Sometimes we forget that when we’re playing.
But if baseball is what you want to do and what you want be good at, you have to out-work the person beside you. There’s always someone out there who wants the same thing you do. So you have to put in time off the field, practicing and working out, to become as good as you can. But when you get into the game, remember to have fun.
Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, Christian rock
Roberts: I like calmer music. I don’t like to listen to a lot of heavy metal. I like to relax instead of get energized, and something mellow calms me down.
Roberts: All baseball players are pretty superstitious, and I’m no different. Early in the season, our team was playing really well. So I had a burrito from the same place before every home game for about the first month of the season. It’s not necessarily my favorite food, but it was when we were winning.
Roberts: I’m most superstitious when I’m playing well. I wear the same spikes when things are good, and I change them when they’re not. More than anything though, I find a routine I can follow before games. I put on my uniform the same way, go to the training room, then get loose. I do things more out of habit than anything.
Roberts: I grew up in Chapel Hill (N.C.), right across the street from where the movie took place. I remember when they were filming it when I was younger. That was one of my favorite movies then and still is today.