TAMPA, Fla. - Brian Roberts didn't credit Derek Jeter for the former Oriole's fairly successful career, but he said the shortstop certainly gave him a boost near the start.
"I think it was maybe 2004 and he told me, I was on second, he just said, 'You can hit .300 in this league,' " the 36-year-old second baseman said Monday. "And to hear it from somebody like that, it kind of opens your eyes. I think he does it to everybody, but for some reason, when he tells it to you, you think you're the most important person in the world, so he's just kind of got that personality. He's so good with people."
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Roberts spent the first 13 years of his career with the Orioles before the Yankees signed him in January to be their everyday second baseman, if health allows.
Remaining healthy is no sure thing for Roberts, who has been limited to an average of 48 games per season the last four years because of injuries.
"I've had numerous times over the last three or four years where I wondered if I'd be able to play again," he said. "I've always tried to live my life by my faith and just believe if God wanted me to still be playing that he would open up a door. I certainly didn't see this door opening."
The door, however, could be of the trap variety. The two-time All-Star is being asked to step into the shoes of Robinson Cano, widely acknowledged as the best second baseman in the game. Cano left for Seattle and $240 million over 10 years.
"Robbie's such a special player. I'm not going to go in and try and be Robbie. Nobody will be," Roberts said. "Our goal is to put nine guys on the field that are going to win a game, and my goal is to try and help us do that. So I'm sure that there's going to be people that are going to want to look out there and say, 'Well, he's not Robbie.' And I'm not going to be Robbie and I'm not going to try to be. I'm going to be Brian Roberts. Hopefully, that's good enough most days."
He said he "never envisioned" playing anywhere but Baltimore, but the Orioles made it clear that they didn't want him back.
Brian McCann recalled hearing plenty of "anybody but the Yankees!" comments from friends after signing. Roberts heard the same message tenfold.
"Plenty of it, probably a lot more than McCann," he said. "Either you love them or you hate them, right? And that's OK. For 15 years, I've been on a side where all the people around me -- I won't say I -- hated them. At least all the people around me did. Now I love them."
Especially the guy on the other side of second base. "He's meant a ton to me even though I played [just] five games with him in the [World Baseball Classic in 2009] as teammates," Roberts said of Jeter. "He's just always been that guy that has encouraged me from the other side. One of those guys early in my career who helped me believe I could play here at this level and play well."
Roberts also will be the answer to a trivia question after the season. His first season in the big leagues, 2001, coincided with the last one of Cal Ripken Jr., another star shortstop spoken of in reverential terms by his peers the way Jeter is.
"That was an amazing experience to walk that last couple months with Cal," Roberts said. "I remember him hitting a home run in Atlanta to give us the lead and he got a curtain call. When does that ever happen? And I could see the same thing here happening. There's such a select few guys that have meant what they mean to the game, and that's going to be an incredible experience to play with him this last year."