Roberts hits upon a milestone

Roberts hits upon a milestone

BALTIMORE -- It's the first drop in a potential flood of milestones.

Brian Roberts will likely become the 15th Oriole to play in 1,000 games Saturday, an achievement framed by his exclusive history with the team that drafted him. That tenure, fruitful as it's been, will continue to ripen over the next few years, giving Roberts a chance to shape his resume as one of Baltimore's all-time greats.

"It's humbling," Roberts said Wednesday. "If you would've told me about this seven years ago, I probably would've laughed at you. For one, I consider it a blessing to be with one team that long. Just to be able to have that kind of stability in this world of professional sports is very rare. I'm thankful for that. I wish we'd won more of the 1,000, and maybe that's my fault in some way. But I had no idea how many games I'd actually played."

Roberts will keep ticking his Orioles odometer forward for the next four-plus years, courtesy of a contract extension signed during Spring Training. And what that deal does -- beyond securing his future -- is cement his legacy, allowing Roberts the chance to keep pushing his name toward the top of the franchise record book.

The second baseman already ranks in the team's top five in stolen bases (229) and doubles (270), and he's also in the top 10 in triples (32) and extra-base hits (365). The presence of teammate Melvin Mora complicates things a bit, but Roberts will likely crack the top 10 in walks, hits and runs within the next two seasons.

And from there, it's not much of a stretch to the top. Roberts hasn't had fewer than 160 hits in any season since 2003, his first year as a starter. Even if his pace slows considerably over the life of his contract, he could ultimately rank below just three Orioles -- Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray -- in both runs and hits.

Roberts, who holds a no-trade clause under the terms of his contract extension, makes it clear that he doesn't play for numbers. Still, he can't help but smile at the mere mention of his name on that honor roll.

"It might be different if I had never known any of those guys, but Eddie was one of my coaches," said Roberts, a two-time All-Star. "Cal and I played together, so it doesn't feel like those guys are up on a pedestal that you're trying to catch up to. I don't look at it that way because I look at those guys as friends. And I would never categorize myself as that kind of player. Never, by any stretch of the imagination. I guess it just comes from being somewhere for a long time. I don't mean to downplay it, though. It's an honor just to be linked to those guys."

Another iconic Oriole, Jim Palmer, doesn't think he seems so out of place in that company. Palmer said that all of Baltimore's opponents know they have to shift their game plan to stop Roberts at the top of the lineup. Furthermore, Palmer doesn't think Roberts is underrated by the general public in any sense whatsoever.

"I think anybody who understands the game knows not only how important he is to this team, but that he's one of the best leadoff guys in baseball," said Palmer, a Hall of Fame pitcher and current baseball analyst for MASN. "He's a terrific all-around player. He can steal bases and he can score runs. We know he can hit doubles, but he can also play defense with the best of them. Dustin Pedroia won the Most Valuable Player Award, but year in and year out Brian's usually our MVP. It doesn't mean he wins the award, but he makes our offense go."

And that's by design. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, said he was surprised by how few players have made it to 1,000 games in an Orioles uniform. But he's not surprised at where Roberts stands in the current scheme of Major League Baseball or in the big picture of Baltimore's franchise history.

"If he keeps going the way he has, I'm struggling to think of what second baseman will have done more in the history of the Orioles," said MacPhail of Roberts. "I think it's entirely possible that when you're through putting the all-time Orioles team together, he might be sitting there at second base. ... He can't do much more than he's doing now. People can draw whatever opinions they want to draw, but what he's doing on the field speaks for itself."

Roberts will likely catch Frank Robinson for 10th place in walks (460) before the All-Star break, and he should pass Mark Belanger for 10th place in runs (670) sometime during the second half. And while he appreciates the team's storied history, Roberts will pass through most of his milestones without breaking stride.

That's because Roberts, as a man of faith, believes he has a higher calling. He's been a tireless fundraiser for a local hospital and has always used his career as a platform to benefit those less fortunate. Roberts has his own unique world view, so perhaps it's no surprise that he doesn't care about how he'll be defined as a player.

"I don't think about history or the way people look at me that much," said Roberts. "I'm one of those people that isn't cynical, but that realizes that once I'm gone, I'm gone. The game moves on and people really won't care that much. I thought about this yesterday, because my wife went to the doctor and someone there said [to my wife], 'Wow, my son's in love with your husband.' And I thought, 'You know what? That's cool, but 10 years from now, a 9-year-old will have no idea who I am. And it won't even matter.' That's the way I try to keep things in perspective.

"I love this game and I love playing it -- and I know I can have a great impact because of playing it -- but in general, I never grew up thinking about the Hall of Fame or having a jersey retired or anything like that."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.