Nate Roberts still dreams of making the major leagues one day, but, for now, his main wish is to get through a season of baseball healthy.
Roberts, a former Richmond-Burton standout and outfielder for the Advanced-A Fort Myers Miracle, has endured three knee surgeries since starting his minor league career in 2010. The Minnesota Twins drafted Roberts in the fifth round that year.
The injuries have taken a toll on the 25-year-old.
“It’s tough being hurt,” Robert said. “Not being able to run was the toughest part. It was definitely mentally draining. At some point, you have to tell yourself that you’re going to get better. I’m getting better, but still won’t be 100 percent until next year.”
Roberts has appeared in 13 games this season with the Miracle and is batting .351 with an OPS of 1.073. Those games were the first action Roberts saw in 18 months. He tore the cartilage in his left knee in the first game of last season, requiring season-ending surgery.
Although Roberts is having relative success with his swing, he said he notices the difference when he goes to run or field a baseball. Roberts lost 15 pounds of mass in his legs and wasn’t able to run for nine months during his rehab.
“You can’t really take anything out of [the 13] games,” Roberts said. “What I want to do for this year, since I’ve missed a year and a half, is to get as many decent at-bats as I can. Hopefully, I can get in about 50 games before the season is over.
“It’s tough to get excited [about being back]. I’m still not myself,” he added. “I still think about not pulling a muscle or hurting my knee. It’s tough to take a whole lot of joy out of playing baseball right now since it’s so hard to get through one game.”
Roberts, however, is no stranger to returning from injuries. In 2010, Roberts hurt his right knee sliding and progressively got worse until it required surgery in the spring of 2012. Roberts then returned in the Arizona Fall League in 2012 for the Peoria Javelinas, posting the second-highest batting average in the league’s history – .446.
“I got hot at the right time over there,” he said. “I was seeing the ball really well and was finding holes. I was making good decisions, so it went really well for me over there.”
Unfortunately for Roberts, he then injured his left knee while training during an offseason workout. As he wrapped up his session, Roberts noticed swelling in his left knee. The swelling resulted in needing surgery to clean up a meniscus tear.
What was supposed to be a four- to six-week rehab ended up being a 12-week rehab, and Roberts wasn’t responding to the treatment, he said. Roberts hurt his knee further in his only appearance in 2013 and required surgery that required 12 to 15 months of recovery.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Roberts said. “It was a pretty long process … There’s not really any good advice to give someone when they go through a long rehab like that. Everyone handles it differently.”
Roberts said his journey through the minor leagues is not where he wanted it to be at this point. But he’s glad he’s able to play with his teammates again and experience the atmosphere of playing, but he just wants to get back to playing at full strength.
It's a long way from when he batted .554 from 2004-05 to 2006-07 at R-B, third all-time for a career in IHSA history. But he's just happy to be healthy now.
“I don’t want to worry about anything other than playing baseball healthy next year, being ready for spring training,” Roberts said. “If I can do that, I think I have a pretty good chance at making the majors one day.”