Scott Rolen had two reasons to celebrate during the first week of July. There was his milestone 300th career home run and selection to the All-Star team for the sixth time in his career. For a while, it seemed he would not achieve either of those things.
07/06/2010 3:35 PM ET
Scott Rolen returns to All-Star Game
Third baseman will be at the Midsummer Classic for sixth time
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
Over the last few years, it seemed that Rolen was playing third base waiting for the next injury. He assembled a troubling list of trips to the disabled list that frequently interrupted what had been a productive Major League career. For a long time, he was a magnet for mishaps.
There were two shoulder surgeries in 2005 for a torn labrum after a collision with Hee Seop Choi of the Dodgers, another shoulder surgery two years later, a fractured finger in 2008 and more shoulder woes that same season. The injuries sapped his power, and it got so bad that two years ago, when he was with Toronto, Rolen thought he might be done and considered retirement.
And yet, in between all the physical troubles, Rolen has pieced together an impressive career. There have been seven Gold Gloves, more than any other third baseman in history except for Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson.
Rolen reached the 300-home run plateau in June. That's a long way from his long-ball introduction to the Major Leagues in 1996 when he hit two in one game against Hideo Nomo in Dodger Stadium. They were a promise of home run potential that Rolen delivered on with nine straight seasons of more than 20 homers, topped by 34 with St. Louis in 2004. But the injuries mounted after that, which makes his production this season so impressive.
He made the All-Star team for the sixth time and in the week before the All-Star break, he was closing in on 1,900 career hits and leading the National League in slugging with a .577 average. He is a major reason that the Reds have soared into contention in the National League Central Division.
All of that is satisfying to the third baseman but perhaps Rolen's legacy is best defined by a community outreach visit he made in 1999 with two Philadelphia teammates to Temple University Children's Hospital. When the players reached the floor where cancer patients were being treated, it was a life-changing experience.
"I walked through there and saw kids suffering, cancer patients, some of them terminal," Rolen said. "Instead of the despair you'd expect, we were greeted by smiles and appreciation. Watching kids suffering and being so brave, I thought if I could bring a smile, a pick me up, a boost to those kids, it would mean a lot. I might not be able to cure anything but I can help them smile. I can help them have a good day."
And that was the beginning of the Enis Furley Foundation, a nonprofit charity to benefit children. It took some time to get organized; it was launched in December 2001, months after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The country was still shaken by that," Rolen said. "This was a chance to do something good. It's not about me. It's about the kids."
The Foundation launched Hot Corner Kids, a community outreach program targeting distressed families in the Midwest with arranged ballpark visits for children and their families. After Rolen's trade to Cincinnati last season, the Reds and Indiana University became co-sponsors.
Tyler's Treehouse is a playground in the woods, part of Camp Emma Lou which is nearing completion and will include a Little League Field and private lake for fishing and paddle-boat rides. It will be a respite from the daily grind of chemotherapy and radiation that cancer patients routinely face.
Major League players often set up foundations in their names. Rolen's organization is named after his dog, a golden retriever who battled a variety of health problems from cataracts to epilepsy.
"He was a special dog," Rolen said.
And his master is a special third baseman.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.