Moving On by Jill Ewert

A year of intense challenges behind him, Baltimore Oriole Brian Roberts is moving forward a stronger man

by Jill Ewert

Brian Roberts knows how hard it is to move on from a mistake. He’s reminded of it every time he sits down for an interview.

If you’re one of the few who missed it all, here’s a quick recap: On December 13, 2007, former Senator George Mitchell held a press conference to unveil his now-infamous Mitchell Report: a 409-page document, based on a 20-month investigation, which accused nearly 100 ballplayers of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. Among the names appearing on the list was that of Roberts.

Yes, he had done it; he’d taken steroids once in 2003. And almost immediately Roberts had decided it was a habit he didn’t want to form and had resumed playing clean baseball—something he has proven to do very well. A two-time Major League All-Star, Roberts leads the American League in doubles hit since 2004, his first full season in the Majors. He also co-led the AL in stolen bases in 2007 and already ranks among the Orioles’ all-time top five in that category.

Off the field, Roberts’ stock seems to rise even higher. The city of Baltimore reveres him for his community service and diligent work to raise funds for hospitalized children; though, after one conversation with Roberts it is clear that public recognition is the last thing on his mind when it comes to reaching out.

Certainly there is plenty to talk about other than one mistake.

In his recent conversation with STV, Roberts accommodated the media one more time and talked about his experience with steroids. But this time he went below the surface, deeper and wider into the spiritual lessons he learned. Roberts shared how he grew in the Lord and grew as a man, and, equally as important, how he has moved on—not forgetting what he learned, but allowing it to make him better.

Sharing the Victory: Scripture is filled with examples of how God used people who made mistakes. David failed publicly, Peter denied Christ. Do you read their stories with a different heart now?

Brian Roberts: Oh, 100 percent. Totally. Some of the greatest figures in the Bible failed miserably.

I’ve been going through the Psalms, and to hear David’s cries, to hear him—a man after God’s own heart—say, “God, where are You? Why have You left me?” That’s what I felt like at times [after the Mitchell Report was released]. It felt like I was on my own.

But then, you read the other Psalms, and you hear him saying, “God is my refuge. God is my strength. There’s no place I can go that He’s not there.”

That is an amazing feeling: that no matter what you’re going through, He’s there. There’s no place you can go that He can’t see you or that He’s not involved.

So, you understand that God used those people in Scripture for those reasons. For the things that we go through, to say, “It’s already been taken care of.” All these mistakes that we’ve made have already been paid for. It’s an amazing thing when you go through something difficult; you come out on the other side and say, “Wow. God’s so faithful.”

So, I really came out of this with a deeper understanding of how powerful and how sovereign God really is. I understand more of what His Word is all about. In those times when you are laying there in your bed at night, and you can’t sleep and you’re opening up God’s Word, and all of a sudden Scripture just comes alive— that’s an amazing feeling. And sometimes you have to go through really hard times in order to see that happen. Because when things are just coasting along, sometimes those things don’t happen for you. And as much as we don’t want to go through those times, in the end you look back and say, “Wow, those were the best times of my life, really.”

STV: You’ve said that people were telling you that you’d never be able to be used in Christian circles again. That’s obviously not something God would tell you. How do you fight that and keep moving forward?

BR: For me, the best way to do that was to find some positive way to use it. And I’ve had a couple of opportunities so far. I’m certainly not looking to live in this my whole life. I don’t want this to be what people remember me for; but I do want to use it and to have a positive light on it.

STV:You’ve continued to move forward in many positive ways, and not many people outside of Baltimore know what you do for the community. What can you tell me about Brian’s Baseball Bash and the other things you do to maximize your position?

Brian Roberts: Well, I really love kids. That’s been my passion since I was 12 years old working at my dad’s baseball camps. So, about five years ago, I started visiting kids at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. I started out just by visiting, not realizing the impact that I had.

In my mind, I look at myself as a normal person walking around, so it didn’t make sense to me that I would be able to walk into a hospital and make some of the kids smile just because I was there. That just didn’t make sense to me. But, when I did it and saw that that was the way it actually worked, I saw that I’d been given an amazing opportunity.

Then, three years ago, I started Brian’s Baseball Bash, which is a big fundraiser at the ESPN Zone downtown. We have a silent auction, a live auction, we bring kids in, we play games and just try to raise money. All the proceeds—every dime that we make—goes straight to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.

With that, you come to understand the fact that God’s put you in a position to make an impact in a lot of people’s lives. And sometimes we take that for granted. I try not to as much as possible.

And I also try to do some FCA stuff around Baltimore. Our baseball chapel leader here has been a spiritual mentor for me and helps put me in places where I can make an impact. There are just a lot of things that I really like being involved with. And you don’t do it for public recognition; you do it because God’s called you to share that with other people and to do good things, not to earn anything—our salvation or anything like that—but because works do come from faith.

STV: How have the outreach events and community work shaped you as a man of God?

BR: Wow, just walking into that hospital will change your life. There are days when I go 0-4 and make the last out with the tying run on second, and I think life’s over. That’s how vain and selfish we are sometimes. But I think God has used opportunities like that to show me that life is about so much more than baseball. It’s my occupation, and I love it and care deeply about it, and I know I’m going to go through days where I get frustrated and think it’s the end of the world, but God has really changed my thought process as far as the way I look at things, not only through just my relationship with Him, but also through other opportunities.

And that’s one of the main ones for me. To walk in and to see a child who has two months left to live really puts life in perspective and makes me realize that I’m here for God. My job is to glorify Him with every second of every day and to plant seeds wherever I am. And I can’t do that if I don’t stay focused on Him all the time.

But we’re all selfish. We all get focused on ourselves too often. But I think He’s taught me a lot about that in the last couple years.

STV:How do you battle that selfishness?

Brian Roberts: You know, I think that’s one of the hard things in this profession. We are catered to so much. It’s hard not to get caught up in that sometimes. If I don’t stay focused on Him, it can easily spiral out of control into a lot of selfishness. And I’ve been in that position before.

Early in my career, when I was young, and all of a sudden I was in the Major Leagues living a dream that I’d been hoping to live my whole life, I made baseball my god. And He had to take it away several times. I had to go back to the minor leagues, I got hurt—just things like that. Finally I heard Him saying, “This is not about you. This isn’t for you.” And I wish I would have learned my lesson the first time. It would have been a lot easier.

STV:It might have saved you a couple of trips.

Brian Roberts: That’s for sure! Definitely a couple of trips to Triple A. But, you know, He uses those things to get our focus and to get our attention on Him. I think He does that on a daily basis however He wants to do it. And one of the things I’ve learned to pray is, “God, if it hurts, do whatever You have to do to make sure my focus stays on You and not myself.” Because it is hard on a daily basis out here not to focus on yourself.

STV: Is that a hard prayer to pray?

Brian Roberts: It is. And it’s not a fun one some days.

And maybe there are some days I might skip it. [laughs] I think those are the days He really says, “OK, do you mean it, or not?”

I love to pray when I’m in the on-deck circle getting ready to go hit. And I’ve been up several times lately in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, and I’m like, “OK, you know what, God? Thank You for this opportunity. I want to glorify You whatever happens. Whether I get the tying hit or I make the last out.” And that’s a hard prayer to pray because, as competitive as I am by nature, I just want to pray for a hit or a homer. But I don’t think that’s what God’s called us to do. And I don’t think it matters if you’re playing baseball or if you’re working in an office or whatever, God has put us there for His glory, not our own. And the only way that He can receive that is through the good and the bad. You have to handle it well through both the good and the bad.

STV: Talking about handling difficult situations well, Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” How has that concept worked itself out in your own life?

Brian Roberts: That’s really been something that God has helped me with a lot. As Christians, we have a hard time forgiving ourselves, and we have a hard time with guilt and with shame and believing that God has really removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. And He tells us that He remembers our sins no more. That’s a really hard thing to get over.

Sometimes you find yourself slipping up in an area or committing the same sin over and over again, and you say, “God can’t possibly love me,” or, “How am I gonna get punished for this one?” God is a loving God, and yeah, He’s going to discipline His children when we need it. But the one thing that I think I’ve learned is that when we repent and when we ask for forgiveness, when we confess our sins, He is just and He is willing to forgive, and He does remove it as far as the east is from the west.

FCA Involvement: Roberts has practically grown up in FCA. Since age 6, he’s attended Huddles and camps, and has even served as a camp Huddle Leader.

Advice to Student-Athletes: “Sports and athletics are great. Accomplishments are great, trophies are great, awards are great, but God’s put us here for His glory and His glory alone. Our motive should be to glorify Him no matter what the circumstances. If that was our goal, I think we would make this world a whole different place, and the athletic community—our teams, coaching staffs and teammates—would totally change.”

That’s such an awesome part of the Christian faith. It’s so amazing that He could love us so much. To look down and see all these things that we do on a daily basis—our thoughts, our actions, our words, everything—and still love us the way He does. It’s hard to even grasp. And sometimes the hardest part of our faith is grasping that He loves us that much on a daily basis.

STV: Another great verse is Romans 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.”

Brian Roberts: Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. To not be conformed to this world is a hard thing for all of us. And God has called us to be in this world, but not of this world. That is so hard on a daily basis: to live in it, to surround yourself with people that you are around every day who may not be believers.

I’m in an environment where, if people knew half of what went on, they probably wouldn’t even believe it. So, to not conform to it, but to also be transformed completely by the renewing of your mind is important, because it all starts with your mind.

Our chapel leader here says, “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action reap a habit. Sow a habit reap a character. Sow a character reap a destiny.” To think that your destiny, your character, all start with one single thought. You have to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, or else you can’t do it.

“We’re not hypocrites, we’re sinners. But so often we’re just not open enough to admit it to those around us or to say that we’re struggling.’?” – Brian Roberts

STV:Why doesn’t it work the other way around? Trying to change the outside first.

Brian Roberts: Personally, I think it’s because the Holy Spirit lives inside you to begin with. And the only way you can transform the inside is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t do anything good on our own. Our thoughts aren’t good naturally. Our actions aren’t good naturally. It’s only by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit that any of that comes forth on the outside. So, to try to do that externally to begin with just doesn’t work.

It has to begin internally in your mind and in your heart. And it’s such a powerful thing to experience. I want to experience it more and more every day. And when you fail, I think that’s when you feel it even more, because you say, “Wow, it started with just a thought.” And it manifested itself into, “Here I am on my knees crying because one thought led to sin.”

That was one thing I learned through this whole steroid process: learning to turn myself inside out and say, “Here I am, for better or worse.” I think that changed me a lot in a lot of ways.

STV: Yeah, authenticity is so powerful. What would it do for those who don’t know Christ if we, as Christians, were more transparent instead of trying to pretend that we’re all perfect?

Brian Roberts: I think you would see lives changed at an unbelievable rate. Because the most dreaded thing Christians hear is when someone says, “Well, I’m not a Christian because there are so many hypocrites.” We’re not hypocrites, we’re sinners. But so often we’re just not open enough to admit it to those around us or to say that we’re struggling.

I think that people who don’t know Christ as their Savior would say, “Wow. I want that. I want to be able to say, ‘Here I am. Help me. How can I change?’” That’s what walking in this faith together is all about. It’s just hard to do.

Through this process, I have learned so much about accountability. Having one or two people you can fully trust with whatever you have in your life changes everything. I didn’t really understand that until recently. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of Christians never have that in their lives. And a terrible aspect of the faith is that we don’t do that enough. We don’t say, “Sit down. What’s going on in your life? I’m not here to judge you, I just want to talk about it and help you. What can I do?”

There is power in having another person stand across from you. When you first have that, it’s scary to say, “I let you down,” even though you may have already said it to God. To look at somebody else and say, “This is what I’ve done. Help me,” or to have those times when you’ve got to pick up the phone and say, “Help me. I’m struggling with this right now.” That’s just a powerful aspect of friendship and of being a Christian brother or sister to somebody else in the faith