Roberts refuses to dwell on uncertainty of job
Trying to land spot on Cubs' bench, infielder not worried about future
MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Roberts used to fill out roster sheets the way people complete NCAA basketball brackets. He'd try to predict different scenarios as to where he fit. Will he make the Cubs? He doesn't know.
"It could go thousands of ways," Roberts said. "What you think might be different than what [another player] thinks. Everyone has their opinion. At the end of the day, no opinions matter. It's whatever they want to do, and nobody will know that until it comes out of their mouths."
Roberts, 33, used to fret about such things.
"I would stay up, filling out 25-man rosters, seeing who's where, who's what, how do I fit into this and that," he said. "It never works out, it never does."
A perfect example, he said was the 2009 season. A free agent after '08, Roberts had signed with the D-backs.
"I broke down their roster a hundred times in Spring Training and I was nowhere to be found, obviously, no room, because of who was on the team," he said of his prognosticating. "And I made the team."
In 2010, he had a tough season with the D-backs, batting .197. He knew it'd be an uphill battle to make the team in '11, but Roberts batted .500 that spring.
"I was supposed to be on that team at that time, so regardless of what pitcher I faced, regardless of whether I hit a ball off the end or got jammed, it found holes," he said. "My belief and trusting in God, it doesn't matter what you do. If you're supposed to be somewhere, you're going to be there regardless. If I'm supposed to be on this team, I'll make it regardless.
"If I'm not, then once one door closes, another opens," he said. "If everything closes, and I don't play baseball any more at all, I'm OK with that. Something will work, something will open up for me."
Roberts' faith helps him through the tough times, and there were many last year.
"Last year was one of the hardest years for me in my life," he said of his time with the Rays.
What happened? Roberts said it would take a 40-minute conversation to go over everything. The short version: He broke camp with the Rays and played 60 games, but it was over four stints, shutting back and forth to the Minors. He was away from his family for 15 weeks.
"It was really hard for me, and I thought in the offseason, I'm just done with the grind of baseball," he said. "I don't want to play, I don't care, it's just pointless. It's not fun anymore. It's not a game, it became this beast I couldn't beat. Emotionally, I couldn't do anything about it. I had this negative vibe about baseball."
He told his wife, Kim, that he was done.
"She said, 'You don't control that,'" he said. "'If you walk out on your destiny in life, you'll never know what will happen. Will we be OK? Sure, God will take care of us in some way.'"
Several teams called, including the Cubs and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
"He just seemed like a real genuine person," Roberts said of Epstein. "I didn't feel it was a business conversation. I just felt like I'm talking to a guy who is telling me how he feels and I'm telling him how I feel. I can tell him things I can feel that he won't take in a negative way and I'm trying to be me and talk about what my life holds."
On Dec. 13, Roberts signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs, and after he did, realized how much he still wanted to play.
"I got this drive again, this, 'Well, cool, man, I'll give it a shot,'" he said. "Once I relied on God to control my destiny, I was OK with whatever happened, and it was a lot easier to be motivated to get back to working out, to hitting, to doing all the baseball stuff in the offseason. We got excited about it -- now we play for the Cubs.
"I wasn't thinking about the roster, I'm just thinking, 'All right, I've got a chance to go to big league camp and do what I do,'" he said. "If I'm supposed to be on the team, it'll be like 2011, I'll get hits, I'll make an impact, I'll do something to impact the team to make them say, 'We're going to take this guy.'"
Through 13 games, Roberts was batting .280. The Cubs' starters are set, and the team is still sorting out the bench. Roberts is one of the candidates.
"I'm not hitting .500, but it's made it so much easier to approach every day," he said. "Now that it's getting to the end of camp, I used to be a mess, a complete mess. Now, I'm just waiting.
"It's like when you're in the doctor's office waiting for him to come in and talk to you," he said. "The last few days of camp are always long. You eventually know you'll get called into the office. I know they'll make a decision. Whether it's good or bad, it's all good news for me. I don't look at anything as bad news anymore."
His focus is on what he can control, how hard he works, how he projects himself. Roberts is a versatile player and literally very colorful. He sports more than 30 tattoos.
What's key is his faith. Maybe someday he'll work for Baseball Chapel or give motivational speeches. He's not losing sleep as Cubs camp winds down.
"At the end of the day, God controls my destiny and my beliefs," Roberts said. "It doesn't matter if I start out the sixth guy out on a 25-man roster. If I'm going to be on the team, I'm going to be on the team regardless."
The Cubs offered the best opportunity. He's here for a reason.
"I know that, 100 percent," he said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't to do something to better myself, to help the team, to help somebody. It could be anything. Everything happens for a reason."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.