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For Orioles' Roberts, it's about quality of life

Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles cools off

Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles cools off before a game against the Atlanta Braves. (June 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Through nine-plus seasons, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts' gritty play was accentuated by a headfirst slide that allowed him to emerge as one of the franchise's most dynamic players.

He began Tuesday night's game against the Mets ranked second in club history with 274 stolen bases, fourth with 339 doubles and sixth with 776 runs, among other accomplishments.

He also began play as a veteran seeking to reinvent himself.

A headfirst slide in a May 16, 2011 game against the Red Sox resulted in a severe concussion that, at its worst, led him to wonder if he would ever return to health, let alone the diamond.

Suffice it to say that the days of the two-time All-Star leading with his head in his desperation to leg out a hit or swipe a base will be limited.

"It puts you at a little more risk," he said. "We're trying to keep myself out of those positions as much as possible."

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter understands the period of self-assessment that Roberts, 34, is experiencing. He was activated June 12 and celebrated with a 3-for-4 performance and an RBI.

"I'm sure there are things he will think about," Showalter said. "He's the one who knows where he's been and where he wants to go."

Perhaps only other athletes who have endured major head injuries, such as the Mets' Jason Bay, can relate to where Roberts has been and the symptoms he experienced.

"I had migraine headaches for probably eight months, a lot of dizziness, a lot of balance problems," he said. "Any time I needed to exert a lot of energy, I just couldn't do it."

He underwent physical therapy under the guidance of Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Medicine Concussion Program. More than anything, though, his brain simply needed time to recover from the trauma.

As optimistic as Dr. Collins was, no one could tell Roberts how long it would take for him to return to the field. No one could assure him it would ever happen.

"It's not like Tommy John surgery where they go in and say, 'Eight months from now, you should be back,' " Roberts said. "Everyone's brain heals differently. It's a very complex system up there. In order to recalibrate it, sometimes it just takes longer.

"They know a lot more about it now than they did 10 years ago. Ten years from now, I'm sure they will know even more."

As Roberts endured the pounding headaches, as he fought to keep steady when dizziness swept over him like a punishing wave, his focus was not on regaining his baseball skills. He simply wanted to feel well again.

"That was the number one priority for me, getting back to having a quality of life," he said. "I have a wife [Diana] who needs to be cared for and loved. I want eventually to have kids."

He has much to ponder these days as he attempts to play the game with the aggressiveness that brought so much success while exercising due caution.

"It's a tough balance," Showalter said.

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