Roberts takes another step in his progression

SARASOTA, Fla. - Rather than take batting practice on one of the back fields after teammates retreated to the clubhouse, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts hit from both sides of the plate today against minor league pitching coach Alan Mills on the Ed Smith Stadium field.

Once his round was completed, he moved to second base and scooped up ground balls from minor league instructor Bobby Dickerson - first at the edge of the infield grass and later from the edge of the outfield grass. He made throws to first base. And he smiled a lot.

A significant step forward in his recovery?

"Yeah," he said later while sitting at his locker. "I think my doctor would probably agree that getting in an environment where there's a lot going on is a big step because it's part of the progression, trying to reacclimate into those environments. It's one thing to hit on the back field with three coaches shagging, and another thing with all the guys out there and people in the stands and music going and all that sort of stuff.

"I think each hurdle we overcome is a big step, but that's certainly one that I think will hopefully be a big one.

"It just feels good to get back out there with the guys and hit in a group and joke around and take ground balls with guys and just be a part of a team. I've said that from Day One - you can't quantify what that means to somebody who's been part of a team for so long and then be separated for so long. That part in itself makes for a great day."

Unfortunately, Roberts still can't project when he might be ready to play in his first game or whether he'll be in the opening day lineup.

"I really don't think about it too much," he said. "I think about today. I think about, 'Am I close enough to take BP today?' Honestly, it may sound cliche, but it's been a long road and I'm trying not to look too far in advance."

By the way, nothing has changed with Nick Markakis. He'll serve as the designated hitter tomorrow in his first game.

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