Very soon, Scott Rolen will not be a major league baseball player. He recently went on the disabled list with a bum shoulder. It’s the same shoulder that’s been giving him trouble since 2005. He misses games because of it every year, but this year has been different. Even when he’s on the field, he hasn’t been playing at the same level. In his own words, “I was beating my head against the wall, scratching and clawing to try to stay above .240,” he said. “You try not to be result-oriented, but at the same time, you want to be productive and help the club.”
I’ve always been a little attached to Scott Rolen. He and I grew up in more or less the same place. His high school played my high school, that kind of thing. He’s a bit older than me, but we all heard about him in school. It’s a small place. Southern Indiana doesn’t produce much beyond corn, soybeans, and limestone. So when someone like Rolen comes along, people pay attention.
I have, I think, a good perspective on what Rolen must be feeling right now. For a large chunk of my life (13 years), I was heavily involved in Tae Kwon Do. For a while, I was really good. I won my share of tournaments and traveled a good chunk of the country (there were three or four of us who traded off wins depending on who was having the better day). Then, my shoulder went bad. Rolen can’t lift his arm above his shoulder right now, and let’s just say that would represent a big improvement for me. I still competed from time to time, and I could still take care of most of my competition, but I couldn’t keep up with the three other guys. Inevitably, I lost to the first one of them I faced. I could still place – I managed some seconds and thirds – but winning was pretty much out of the question.
The most frustrating part was that I knew what I needed to do. I still had the muscle memory. I was still in good shape. It was just that my shoulder wouldn’t do what I told it to. As a result, I had no inside game. If you were bigger than me with any kind of speed, I wasn’t going to beat you.
I would imagine that’s where Rolen is right now. He still knows exactly what he needs to do, but his body won’t respond like he needs it to. That’s incredibly difficult to deal with. Amazingly, he’s still batting .240. Think about that. One of his arms is incapable of functioning normally, and he’s still able to scrap enough to hit .240 in the major leagues. But he isn’t truly elite anymore and he never will be.
And, as I said, soon, he won’t be a major leaguer at all. I don’t think we always appreciate what something like that means. Rolen has been a professional baseball player for almost 20 years. I would imagine that he has though of himself as a baseball player at least since high school, maybe longer. Fans are going to gripe about the money he’s owed and how he’ll be getting paid more than he’s worth, but I think that’s mostly jealousy. We’d all love to make millions of dollars. Few would walk away from that kind of money. And Rolen, I’m sure, still has days when he feels like a major leaguer. When nothing hurts and everything moves like it should and he believes, “Yes, I cant still do this. I can still earn my money.” But never mind the money. As human-being, it’s incredibly hard to leave something like that behind.
I can’t really throw a baseball anymore. It’s my right shoulder that betrayed me and I’m right handed. I can manage a kind of high-arcing toss as a lefty and that’s about it, but I have dreams sometimes. In the dreams, I start to lift my arm. It’s tight and I struggle, but I find away to get it to shoulder level. I keep pushing higher and higher. Suddenly, there’s a loud pop and my shoulder works just like it did when I was seventeen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rolen has dreams like that.