Double plays don't come much more effortlessly than those in the
eighth inning of a lopsided ball game in June, when the postgame
spread can occupy a base runner's thoughts more than the outcome.
So it appeared last week when Kansas City Royals shortstop Angel
Berroa tossed the baseball to second baseman Tony Graffanino for
the first of what should have been two routine outs--except for
one 240-pound detail: Scott Rolen was the runner coming from
first base. ¬∂ With his St. Louis Cardinals holding a comfortable
10-3 lead, the security of a $90 million contract that pays him
through 2010, more RBIs than anybody else this season, soft
spots in his heart for books, dogs and children, and his
retirement plans already focused on 58 acres in rural central
Indiana, Rolen more than qualified to take the modern
ballplayer's easy escape route: peeling harmlessly out of the
baseline toward the outfield. What happened next, however,
served as an imprint to Rolen's style of play, not to mention
to the backsides of Graffanino and Berroa.
As Graffanino was throwing to first to complete the double play,
Rolen slid hard and cleanly into the second baseman, sending him
head over heels. So forceful was the slide that Rolen continued
past the bag and into Berroa, knocking over the shortstop
too--like a bowling ball picking up a 2-5 combination for the
spare. "Berroa had this look on his face like, I didn't even hear
the train whistle!" says Cardinals righthander Matt Morris,
recalling the play.
Retro uniforms and retro ballparks may be trendy, but Rolen, the
retro ballplayer, is a genuine throwback. When he's not flipping
middle infielders like flapjacks, Rolen, 29, is playing the best
third base of his generation, piling up more RBIs than Mike
Schmidt did at the same age and carrying himself with such
humility that even his teammates have to strain to hear him when
he does speak. "Rolen's the perfect baseball player," Milwaukee
Brewers manager Ned Yost says. "It's his tenacity, his
preparation, the way he plays. He tries to do everything
fundamentally sound. And he puts the team first--there's no
fanfare with him."
In addition to his major-league-leading RBI total (78), Rolen at
week's end ranked second in the National League in hitting with
runners in scoring position (.434), third in slugging (.621),
fourth in batting (.344), fourth in total bases (175) and sixth
in on-base percentage (.419). He was also playing his usual
sublime defense at third. He had no throwing errors and only five
fielding miscues while accumulating 196 assists, most among major
league third basemen.
Led by Rolen, first baseman Albert Pujols (21 homers, 57 RBIs)
and a surprisingly efficient and healthy starting rotation, the
Cardinals owned the best record in the National League (49-32)
and a three-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the Central
Division. They had won nine consecutive home series since April
29, including last weekend's sweep of the Seattle Mariners.
"This," Rolen said before an 8-1 breather last Saturday, "is
As Joe Namath was made for Broadway and Cal Ripken Jr. born to
Baltimore, Rolen's fit in St. Louis appears to be perfect.
Growing up in Jasper, Ind., which is about 75 miles southwest of
Bloomington, Rolen occasionally sat in the upper deck of Busch
Stadium. "How could you not be a Cardinals fan?" he says. "I saw
them play in the World Series against the Brewers and the
Drafted out of Jasper High in the second round in 1993 by the
Phillies, Rolen made it to the big leagues at the end of the '96
season. He followed that with six solid seasons in Philadelphia,
though his stay there was marred by a stiff back in 1999 and
2000--"There were times I was out there just trying to make it
through a game," he says--and deteriorating relations with
manager Larry Bowa and the front office, whom he thought made him
a scapegoat for the club's stumbles. Once seen as the franchise
player who would lead the Phillies into their new Citizens Bank
Park this year, Rolen instead was expected to leave the team as a
free agent after the 2002 season. So he was traded to St. Louis
on July 29 of that year for infielder Placido Polanco and
pitchers Bud Smith and Mike Timlin. He signed an eight-year
contract with the Cardinals two months later, and shortly after
that he and his wife, Niki, bought a house 15 minutes from Busch
Last year, in his first full season in St. Louis, Rolen hit .286
with 28 home runs and 104 RBIs. Through Sunday he already had 785
career RBIs and was on his way to his fifth 100-RBI season and
sixth Gold Glove. Schmidt, a Hall of Fame third baseman during
his 18-year career in Philly, had 666 RBIs, four 100-RBI seasons
and four Gold Gloves through the season in which he was 29.
Meanwhile, Rolen accepts no endorsements (though his popularity
is such that hundreds of people wear Rolen jerseys to Busch);
typically shows up for work unshaven and with hair uncombed, clad
in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt; buries his nose in books (Bob
Woodward's Bush at War is his current selection); and loves
playing in front of well-scrubbed crowds who are so darn nice
that Saturday's throng gave the grounds crew a big ovation for
its alacrity in rolling out the tarp during a rain delay.
"I am very comfortable in this environment," Rolen says. "I'm
happy coming to the ballpark. I'm happy driving home. I have an
eight-year contract with a no-trade clause. I come to the park,
and it's all about baseball. As I drove in [last Saturday] there
were 30 people outside the stadium having a barbecue. They were
all dressed in red. It was three, four hours before the game!
This is for a baseball game--it's not Lambeau Field! But there
While with the Phillies, Rolen began visiting sick children in
hospitals (insisting that no photographers tag along), and lent
his time and gave money to various charitable organizations that
aided children. Rolen, though, grew weary of writing checks
earmarked for "general funds." So in 2001 he, Niki, his brother,
Todd, and his sister, Kristie, established his own foundation to
help children, the Enis Furley Foundation, named for his golden
retriever-pointer mix. The foundation's mission was simple: to
put smiles on the faces of kids who were ill or whose families
had fallen on hard times. "We talked about putting up a tent in
the middle of a cornfield, and we'd be the clowns," Rolen says.
That whimsical notion grew into a lakeside outdoor-recreation
retreat on 40 acres near Bloomington, complete with horses,
cabins, miniature golf courses, canoes, and baseball and Wiffle
ball fields. Rolen named the complex, which is expected to be
completed next year, Camp Emma Lou, after his other dog, a black
Labrador. Midwestern children in need and their families will be
housed and fed, all expenses paid. The camp's motto is Live,
love, laugh ... and don't burn your marshmallow. "We're not
pretending to cure anything," says Rolen. "What we want to do is
help kids be kids."
Camp Emma Lou is part of the 98-acre parcel that Rolen purchased
in 2001. "We're going to retire there, next to the camp," he
says. "It'll be perfect."
Already, Rolen is in a very good place.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL GREENBLATT/UPI LOVE BIRDS Cardinals fans adore the humble Rolen for his productivity and his peerless handling of the hot corner.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS LEE/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/KRT/ ABACA [See caption above]
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