January 23, 2011

Steve Solloway: Rogers carries those Maine values, all the way to the big leagues

SOUTH PORTLAND - Mark Rogers paused to smile for cell-phone cameras. He scribbled his name on whatever was handed to him. He acknowledged the applause with an even fresher smile when he was introduced Friday night as a guest at the Portland Sea Dogs' Hot Stove Dinner.

click image to enlarge

Mark Rogers, who was welcomed by fellow Mainers at a Sea Dogs get-together Friday night, has come back from two lost years because of injuries to possibly be in the Brewers rotation.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Unintentionally, he reminded his audience what a breath of fresh air should sound like when he spoke. "I'm so blessed to be from Maine. It's such a big world and then you come home and see people who really care about you."

Spend any time with Rogers and you know he wasn't playing to the crowd. He understands the difference between being proper and speaking from the heart.

He turns 25 next week and it's difficult to call him a kid. It's difficult to realize it was seven long years ago when he pitched Mt. Ararat High to the state championship showdown with Deering. Fans stood in long lines to buy tickets and fill Hadlock Field. Sure, Deering pitcher Ryan Reid and his teammates won the game. But Rogers told the 350 or so listening in the Marriott at Sable Oaks ballroom that he won't erase that memory. Like so much else, that loss helped him succeed.

He may be part of the Milwaukee Brewers' rotation when the team leaves spring training in Phoenix. He may start the season with Nashville, the Brewers' Triple-A team. He's not expected to be in Tennessee for more than a month or two.

Friday night, he joined new Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles and outfielder Ryan Kalish, who turned heads when the Red Sox called him up to Boston last summer. Red Sox prospects Will Middlebrooks and Tim Federowicz were also on hand and drew applause.

The center of attention was Rogers, the local guy. His September call-up to the Brewers and future was one reason there were smiles all around Friday night. The other reason? Nearly everyone knows Rogers' back story.

He lost two years from his career. Two shoulder surgeries robbed him of the ability to pitch with his usual eye-popping speed and movement.

Two years of wondering if a dream that was about to come true would happen at all. Rogers fought his fears and won. He blames no one. He asks for no favors. He works for his opportunities, thank you.

Before he walked into the ballroom, we spoke. Rogers was only 21 when he lost his first year. What prepared him for the rehab and uncertainty?

"I worked at the back of the boat. With my father or with others, doing a job that's not always extremely rewarding. I watched my dad day in and day out for long hours hauling traps. He instilled in me that nothing comes easily.

"I thought of him when I was rehabbing. If he could suffer through bad weather and hard work of what he did, I could do the same with what I had to do. My dad taught me how to keep things in perspective."

Craig Rogers was the Mt. Ararat coach when Mark pitched and will be the new Lewiston coach this spring. Always he has set traps for lobsters in the waters off Orrs Island, as much of his family have done.

Craig Rogers was in Milwaukee with his family in September when Rogers made his first major league start. In the first inning, Mark got himself into trouble, loading the bases. Craig watched closely. His son struck out three to get out of the inning with no runs scoring.

"I try not to show my emotions but when I saw Mark pump his fist, I came out of my seat." Yelling and pumping his own fist. And yet, one other game supersedes Rogers' first major league start.

"It was his first game back after (two surgeries and two years off)," said Craig Rogers. It was a Florida State League game at the bottom rung of minor league baseball, played in Daytona. Mark pitched well.

"I knew then he'd be all right," said Craig Rogers. "It was just going to be a matter of time."

Friday night, the lobsterman looked good in a new suit, leaving the spotlight to his son. Saturday, they went ice fishing in the Dover-Foxcroft area. The newly married son then flies to his Arizona home to continue working out to prepare for the start of spring training.

"We were on a hunting trip (this fall) and he can still act like he's 15, 16 years old. He told me he wanted to leave early, go home, and I said, sure, let's go. No dad, home to Arizona. That's when it hit me. He's a man."

Who's ready to walk through the next door to his career.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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