From the minute he stepped out of the dugout and onto the turf at Busch Stadium, you knew Scott Rolen was different. His serious expression, his professionalism, his absolute dedication to being the best third baseman he could be were all evident. That commitment was burned in to the very fiber of his being. It was clear from Day One that Rolen was special, and his decision to forego the remainder of the 2005 season may be Rolen at his very, very best.
Anyone who reads this already knows his qualities as an athlete and a leader. Scott Rolen is simply the best third baseman in the game and, perhaps, the best in history. Ever the strong silent type, he abhors microphones and publicity. He is the type who would rather take a one-hopper off his chest to keep it in front of him than submit to an interview. Rolen walks the walk and doesn't talk the talk. He is regarded throughout major league baseball as an ultimate team player.
The decision to undergo surgery is never easy, particularly when there seems to be a divergence of opinions on the need for it. It is quite possible that Rolen could have easily taken over third from Abraham Nunez and played the rest of the season. Had he done that, he could have sparkled defensively, as he always has. He could also have hurt the team – his team – offensively because of his inability to swing a bat without pain. His few days back with the club after his surgery were hard to watch. At times screaming in pain when he swung at off-speed pitches, he tried his best but just couldn't ignore the electric messages his body was sending.
Many professional athletes live for the day they get to play in the championship game(s) of their sport, whether that game is the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, or the World Series. Those games are the pinnacle of achievement, and to be able to play at the level is athletic self-actualization. Admit it. No kid who ever picked up a glove and trotted out to right field in Little League could help but daydream about doing the same thing in a World Series.
And let's be honest here. The Cardinals, including Scott Rolen, pretty well stunk up the joint in the 2004 World Series. That only increases the pressure to play in the Series for someone like Rolen. The best of the best didn't get a single hit in the Series, and he badly wants another shot at it. He wants to continue to be a part of something special – the 2005 Cardinals and their epic last season at Busch Stadium II.
Yet with all this weighing on him – his pride, his desire to be a part of this team, his determination to play and excel in a World Series, Rolen said simply "No." Knowing that he could probably play, but that his level of play would be harmful to the team, he chose to take one last hit for his team. By choosing surgery and missing the remainder of the season, Rolen showed that for all his talents, for all his money, and for all the respect and admiration he enjoys in Cardinal Nation, he remains humble enough to know that he is still a part of that complex and sometimes nebulous thing we call a Team.
After his surgery, the cameras will show Scott Rolen in the dugout, his left arm in a sling. He will wear the same impassive, serious look that hitters and pitchers fear. He will continue to share what he knows with Nunez, John Mabry, and Scott Seabol. He will smile as runners in red cross the plate and scowl when the opposition does the same. Yet for all the imperturbable nuance of his expression, Scott Rolen will be a man in agony. He was born to play baseball. By depriving himself of that which he loves best in potentially one of its finest hours, he is showing again that he is truly a team player and eminently worthy of wearing the birds-on-bat.
I wish Scott Rolen well in his surgery and rehab. He is in for a long and grueling
recovery. When he hits the field in