October 06, 2011
MILWAUKEE — Ryan Roberts(notes) of the Arizona Diamondbacks said he appreciates when people ask him about his many, many tattoos. The subject never gets boring to him — which is fortunate, because he is covered from neck to toe in ink, his nickname is "Tatman" and he fields lots of questions about all of it.
"I can't say they shouldn't [ask]," Roberts told Big League Stew. "When I first started getting tattoos, I never expected to get a lot. Over the course of my life, everything started happening for a reason. If people want to know why, I'll definitely explain the reasons behind them. If someone's interested, I'm honored to tell them."
Roberts, who turned 31 in September, said he gets tattoos in order to show what inspires him: his Christian religion, as it relates to family and his other life experiences, including baseball. The first tats others probably notice are the Japanese characters for "family" on the left side of his neck. And there's a whole lot more where that came from.
One question he can't answer is: "How many tattoos do you have?" He stopped counting at 30 or so, and that was a while ago. Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton(notes), as a point of reference, reportedly has 26 tattoos.
"Oh, Lord. I have no idea," Roberts said with a laugh after being asked to add them up. "In the tattoo world, they don't really count so much, once you have sleeves [covered arms]. It's more or less just hours spent. Hours that I've sat have turned into years, probably."
His grand slam against the Milwaukee Brewers was a key blow for the D-backs on Wednesday night, helping them square the best-of-five NLDS at two games apiece with a 10-6 victory at Chase Field. Roberts is batting .375 with an .813 slugging percentage in 16 at-bats heading into the deciding game at Milwaukee on Friday afternoon.
He's also tattooing the ball, one might say.
Roberts also hit an extra-inning grand slam in Arizona's season-defining victory against the Dodgers in late September. You might remember that he did an impression of Arizona manager Kirk Gibson as he rounded the bases, pumping his arms like Gibson did after he hit his famous winning homer against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
A year ago, Roberts was only hitting the bricks after being sent down to the minor leagues because he stopped producing in his second full major-league season. You also might remember Roberts as the guy who was living in his Class AAA team's home clubhouse in Reno, while his wife and daughter were back in Phoenix, in order to save money.
Gibson said the experience seemed to have an impact on Roberts: "He kind of got humbled last year. I think he figured that out and went into the offseason with a real good attitude. And when you have years like that, there's many reasons why it happens, but it always comes back to you. And it's up to you to fix it. So I think he has real good self-reflection."
Roberts said Gibson has been good for him.
"From Day 1, he set the bar high for everybody," Roberts said "'This is what [I] expect, this is what our coaching staff expects. Play the game 100 percent. All nine innings. If you don't want to do that, then you're not going to be part of the team.' Everbody sitting in the clubhouse in spring training embraced that."
After playing in a grand total of 19 games from 2006 to 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, he finally got a chance to play frequently with Arizona in '09. After slipping in 2010 when the D-backs lost 97 games, Roberts started fresh with Gibson in spring training and won a job as a utility player. He had his best season yet — slugging .427 with 19 homers, 25 doubles, 66 walks and 18 stolen bases — in becoming essential to Arizona's success. Now, third base is his.
"He came [to spring training] in much better shape, came in hungry with a great attitude," Gibson said. "And I guess the philosophies that we laid out in spring training, he really latched on to them and really worked hard."
At the rate he's piling up life experiences, and if Roberts keeps getting tattoos to express his story, he's going to run out of room soon. Hey, isn't that already happening?
"I don't have that many," Roberts said with a laugh, "but think I'm running out of space for me. I got to the point where I just want to finish everything that I've started and then once I do that, be done. The goal, when I started wasn't to be [covered] head to toe. But who knows? If certain things come up ...
"On my whole left leg. I'm doing my whole family theme," Roberts said. "I just have a daughter right now, but the more kids we have, I'll add to it with stuff that they like and do."
"When you play at San Fran, he'll come to the hotel and do it there so you don't have to go to the shop anymore. That's a good thing," Roberts said.
That is, unless Roberts tattoos himself; his wife, Kim, gave him a tattoo machine as a recent birthday present. Roberts says he has some drawing ability, but doesn't fancy himself to be much of an artist at this time. So far, he's done a self-tattoo of a footprint of his daughter, Hudson.
"But I never, ever think that I could be good enough to tattoo people," Roberts said. "It's something that's very, very hard to do. I can draw, but that just goes back to ... these [men and women] who do tattoos don't get looked at as artists, they just get looked at as tattoo artists. How they draw and color and paint is unreal. They can make paintings that you can put up in museums."
Roberts recently did a photo spread for Rebel Ink Magazine, which mentions in the accompanying article that some Major League Baseball teams turn down the magazine's requests for interviews because clubs don't like to promote the inferences some draw from tattoos. But for anyone who wants Roberts to play for their team, his body art is a package deal, he told the magazine.
"I probably won't ever play for the Yankees," Roberts said. "You don't see any tattoos on the Yankees. They don't even have facial hair [as in beards]."
Saucy photos! Not only do the Diamondbacks and their community not seem to mind, they embrace Roberts' tattoos, to the point that Roberts' recent bobblehead giveaway was accurate right down to the body art. It's an inseparable part of who he has become.
One of his D-back teammates, Aaron Hill(notes), came up with Roberts in the Blue Jays organization and is happy to be reunited in Arizona. Hill's favorite Roberts tat? The words "Only God can judge me," which are written across Roberts' stomach.
"He was my first roommate in pro ball, so I know 'em all," Hill said with a laugh.
(And who doesn't love Tupac Shakur?)
Roberts has another phrase — around his collar — which he says refers to the birth of his daughter, Hudson.
"God gave us a fairytale."
No matter what you think of tattoos as art, that's a beautiful sentiment.
Roberts said he watches tattoo shows on reality TV, including the recently ended "L.A. Ink" with Kat Von D. Not only does he admire her ability to draw people realistically, but he closely relates to the customers who have walked into her shop.
"I like listening to people's stories about why they get tattoos," Roberts said. "That's why I started getting them — to tell my story."
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