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Brian Roberts: I'm no Robinson Cano

2/17/2014

TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter whispered seven little words into Brian Roberts' ear that Roberts never forgot and made him believe in himself.

It was 2004, Roberts recalls. He was 26. Jeter was 30, already a star. Roberts made it to second base, and the always chatty (on the field, anyway) Jeter saddled up next to him.

"You can hit .300 in this league," Roberts remembers the Yankees' captain telling him.

It made an impact on Roberts. The year before, he had hit .270. In 2004, he finished at .273. In 2005, he batted .314, was an All-Star and hit more doubles than anyone else in baseball.

Roberts might have hit .300 anyway, but he thinks Jeter boosted his confidence.

“To hear it from someone like that, it just kind of opens your eyes," said Roberts, who was Jeter's World Baseball Classic teammate in 2009. "I don’t think it’s just me. I think he does it to everybody. But for some reason when he tells it to you, you think you’re the most important person in the world. He’s just kind of got that personality, and he’s so good with people.”

Ten years later, Roberts has a chance to be Jeter's double-play partner as Jeter closes out his career, replacing Robinson Cano.

Well, not exactly replacing Cano.

"Robbie is such a special player. I'm not going to go in and be Robbie," said Roberts, now 36. "Nobody will be. Our goal is to put nine guys on the field to win a game. My goal is to try and help us do that. I'm sure there are going to be people who are going to want to look out there and say, 'He is not Robbie.' I'm not going to be Robbie, and I'm not going to try to be. I'm going to be Brian Roberts, and hopefully that is good enough."

The real question is, can Roberts stay healthy? He played 77 games in 2013, and that was his most in four years. Roberts has had several injuries, but the toughest were the concussions -- the effects of which have now ceased for nearly two years, he said.

In 2013, Roberts started off well in the Orioles' first two games of the season, going 4-for-8 at the plate, before popping his hamstring tendon in game No. 3 trying to steal a base.

"That was really frustrating for me," Roberts said. "I thought I was in a place where I thought I was going to bounce back and be myself again."

Roberts has watched a farewell tour of a legendary shortstop before. In 2001, when Roberts was a rookie with the Orioles, Cal Ripken Jr. said goodbye.

"I remember him hitting a home run in the eighth [inning] or something in Atlanta, and he got a curtain call," Roberts said. "When does that ever happen? I could see the same thing here happening [with Jeter]. There’s such a select few guys that have meant what they’ve meant to the game, and it’s going to be an incredible experience to play with him this year."