Roberts happy to bat ninth for AL

Four Birds geared up for All-Star Game

DETROIT -- Brian Roberts chuckled over being the center of a storm -- well, at least a gust -- of controversy.

Mind you, on the day before an All-Star Game, controversies are graded down from true buzz-bombs to anything out of the ordinary.

Thus, the sight of Roberts being listed ninth in the American League's starting lineup raised media antennae.

Roberts, the Orioles' leadoff man and one of their sparks, saw it as appropriate. In fact, he would have told Terry Francona, "You're nuts," had the American League manager listed anyone but Johnny Damon atop his lineup.

And the Baltimore second baseman could have gotten away with such blunt words because of a long, tight history between the Roberts and Francona families. Mike Roberts, Brian's dad and the former longtime baseball coach at North Carolina, recruited Terry for the Tar Heels in the late '70s.

"I love Johnny. I want him there," Roberts said. "If Terry had me on top, I would not have wanted it that way. If Terry had asked me, I'd have told him I wanted Johnny to do it, because he deserves it, he should be there."

With 15 homers and 49 RBIs, along with a .345 average, Roberts appears to deserve being neither on top or at the bottom of the AL lineup, but somewhere in the middle.

But that's not about to happen for a 5-foot-9 middle infielder among the AL big boys, even if he brings one of the most inspiring tales to the 76th All-Star Game.

There are four players here representing the resurgent Orioles, and they all have their unique stories.

Starting shortstop Miguel Tejada, the soul of the Birds, ends, or at least interrupts, the Alex Rodriguez-Derek Jeter stranglehold on the position.

Third baseman Melvin Mora gives the nation another look at one of the game's most overlooked, but most consistently productive, bats.

And southpaw B.J. Ryan brings the heat that has turned him into a feared closer in the seventh season of a mostly-anonymous career.

But the biggest, or smallest, story is Roberts. He has already surpassed the cumulative home run total (12) of his four previous seasons, is challenging for a batting title, and is creating a stir by his placement in an All-Star lineup.

"I'm just happy to be here," he said, smiling broadly, "and to have the opportunity. [Batting ninth] doesn't bother me one bit."

Nevertheless, Roberts was pleased that Francona, whose Boston Red Sox concluded first-half play in Baltimore, sought him out to convey his lineup plans.

All-Star Game 2005

"It definitely means a lot when a manager takes the time to do that," he said. "But it's how he is. He's known my family forever, and there's a lot of respect between our families."

Respect for the Orioles is growing exponentially, and the main man responsible for that was bursting with pride to have three-quarters of the Baltimore infield in an All-Star Game.

"We're happy about that," Tejada said. "We feel like we're still in Baltimore, still just the Orioles. When you have as many players from your team, it makes you feel good."

Tejada is the Godfather of this infield, in the best possible way.

"He makes B. Rob (Roberts) and Melvin better every day they play together," Ryan noted. "It all starts with Miggy. He's starting to get people to notice him a lot more than when he played on the West Coast; they realize he truly is a great player with every talent."

Even though Tejada won an MVP Award in 2002 with the Oakland A's, having his persuasive talents translate to the recently-downtrodden Orioles has brought him a new level of recognition.

Most cannot believe his endless supply of enthusiasm. He is the modern-day Ernie Banks, to whom every day was "A great day to play two." To Tejada, every day is just great to be playing this game.

His manager, Lee Mazzilli, recently said, "He comes to this ballpark like a Little League player who wakes up Saturday morning and just wants to play baseball."

"Not too long ago, I was a little kid who was just dreaming," Tejada said, "just trying to be a baseball player. I work as hard as I can to get to where I am now.

"I appreciate what all the people are saying about the talent level I reached. And I'll keep working hard to make those people proud."

Dominican Tejada belongs to the same endless cycle as does Venezuelan Mora: They were shaped by their boyhood idols, and now have the responsibility of being idols to a new generation of boys.

For Mora, the model was "Davey Concepcion. He just had that passion for baseball, I loved to always see him play."

Tejada and Mora also belong to the large contingent of Latin players on these two All-Star teams, and they sense their influence.

"It's good for Latin people to know we have pretty good players," Mora said, "and it's good for us, too. To represent our country is a proud moment."

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.