D-backs' Roberts at home

2010-03-11T05:00:00Z D-backs' Roberts at homeBOB MCMANAMAN The Arizona Republic Arizona Daily Sun
March 11, 2010 5:00 am  • 

Do you know when a major leaguer finally feels like he's found a home?

For the Diamondbacks' Ryan Roberts, it was when he reported to spring training this year and happened to look inside the waistband of his baseball pants hanging in his locker stall.

"They had my name stitched into them," the second baseman said, beaming. "You have no idea what that was like to see.

"I mean, last year, they just gave me anybody's old pants. They could have belonged to (pitcher) Leo Rosales or some other guy. They never really fit. I'd just get somebody's pants and they'd write my uniform number on the inside with a black Sharpie."

After a year of proving he belongs and adjusting to the hand-me-downs in his first big-league season, Roberts is tailor-made to break camp as one of Arizona's most more versatile players on the 25-man roster.

The ultimate utility man, Roberts can play almost anywhere in manager A.J. Hinch's lineup. His goal is to fight for regular starting time at second, but the Diamondbacks brought in Kelly Johnson as a free agent from the Braves to primarily handle that position.

Roberts' numbers from last season, however, compare favorably to Johnson's. Roberts hit for a higher average (.279 to .224), drew more walks (40 to 32), hit one fewer home run (seven), and also comes cheaper ($400,000 to $2.35 million). Roberts bats from the right side and Johnson from the left, but they each hit .325 against left-handers, which could make Hinch go with the hotter hand against southpaw left-handed starters.

"Nothing has ever come easy for him or been given to him," Hinch said of Roberts, 29. "He's earned every opportunity thus far and he's going to have to continue to earn the opportunity. All last spring he was battling for the last bench spot and, man, what a difference a year makes.

"He's coming off a very productive season at second base and I love the fact he can also play third, left field, I can put him in right if I needed to and I can put him at short if I needed to. That's a very valuable National League player and to have the offensive production to go with it makes it easier for me to put him in the lineup."

Roberts is also the Diamondbacks' emergency catcher and he'll get some looks behind the plate during games this spring, according to Hinch.

"I'm proud how he's kind of endured the first part of his career, having to grind to get that breakthrough opportunity," the manager Hinch said. "Now he's nearing that, I don't want to say 'comfortable place.' But I'm comfortable with him.

"I know he'll always be prepared, he'll always compete. And he's probably the player who's always on the cusp of, 'He needs more at-bats.' You're going to want to give him more at-bats if you're sitting in my seat. It's a great weapon to have."

Roberts always thought so, too. But after being selected by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2003 amateur draft, he got a total of 27 major-league at-bats preceding before his arrival in Arizona.

A non-roster spring invitee, he came here as an unknown, feisty, tattoo-covered gym rat willing to outwork anyone to get noticed. It didn't take long for his teammates to welcome him. Before long, his play and high energy made him a clubhouse favorite.

Right fielder Justin Upton said Roberts' style is infectious and inspiring, adding, "It's the kind of attitude you like to see and you see it every day from him."

But even Roberts, who committed only two errors in 57 games at second base, grew tired of the losing last season. The Diamondbacks stumbled to70-92 record.

"It was a tough, mental grind on everybody," he said. "It wasn't fun. It was fun to be in the big leagues for me, but it wasn't always fun to come to the yard."

Things got better in August, and not just because second baseman Felipe Lopez had been traded to the Brewers, opening up more playing time for Roberts. He not only enjoyed his best month in the majors -- hitting .352 with four homers and 12 RBIs -- but he became a father for the first time.

His wife, Kim, delivered a baby girl on Aug.6. Roberts was in Pittsburgh with the team when Kim went into labor, and he was able to fly home just in time for the birth of Hudsyn.

"She went into labor at 6:30 in the morning and I didn't get to the hospital until 4:30 that afternoon," Roberts said, "so she had to wait all day and that was the worst part about it."

The good part was the family finally had steady money coming into the household. Ryan Roberts had struggled for years trying to make a living playing in the minors. Kim, an actress, wasn't finding much work outside of occasional small roles.

"Neither one of us ever had any money," Ryan said, "so before the baby came, we went out and bought the things we never really had before, like a bunch of new clothes and shoes and things like that.

"Now, we're saving and not spending so much on the little things. We're very happy."

If he ever needs a reminder of that, Roberts just needs to look at all the new baseball pants hanging in his locker, the ones with his name stitched into the waistband.

"Yeah," he said. "Life looks pretty good right now."

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