CINCINNATI — Scott Rolen is poised to return to his personal plot of land at third base and Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker is ready to provide a personal escort.
Baker wants to make certain Rolen doesn’t pull something in his back on his way to his position because once again Rolen is returning to the lineup after his back pushed him to a seat in the dugout and one the trainer’s table.
Baker wants his seven-time All-Star and eight time Gold Glover on the field for the dash through September toward a National League Central title.
“We’re a little bit different team without Scott Rolen, even though Todd Frazier and the other guys have done a good job over there while he is out,” said Baker.
“Scotty is our leader on the field and it’s different when your leader is not on the field,” Baker continued.
What does leadership mean on a baseball team, what does a leader provide?
“Most good teams have a leader,” he said. “And leaders are not appointed, they are anointed by the players on the team. They gravitate toward him, go to him for advice, emulate how he plays and how he goes about his business as a professional.”
Rolen won’t ever be caught standing on a chair waving his arms and screaming inspirational words in the clubhouse. He is the strong, silent type, a guy who hangs around his locker.
While he doesn’t do it, he could hang a sign on his locker that says, “The leader is in,” because that’s the spot most players visit when they need professional baseball counseling. And Rolen gives it in a quiet, whispery manner so that nobody notices unless they happen to be looking for the player to whom Rolen is imparting knowledge.
“It is something that sort of happens,” said Baker. “I’ve never appointed a captain. Never. I might appoint a guy that nobody wants to follow. But if there was a captain on our team it would be Scotty Everybody goes to Scott.”
And it isn’t just the fact that Rolen is a veteran been-there, done-that personality. He remains one of baseball’s most talent defenders.
Asked if there is a better third baseman in the game, Baker said, “I’ve had some good ones. Aramis Ramirez. Matt Williams. Matty was real special.
“The thing with Rolen is that his defense sometimes is overlooked because he makes everything he does look so easy,” said Baker. “Like Matt Williams, Rolen rarely, rarely makes a bad throw anywhere, which is huge. He can probably make the throw to first base in his sleep. Chest-high. Every time. Matt Williams was the same way.”
Rolen missed 80 games last year via two trips to the disabled list and shut it down in late July for shoulder surgery.
He came to spring training chipper and chirping and said he felt better than he had in several seasons. But he walked slowly out of the starting gate and by the end of April he was hitting below. 200.
But he gradually picked up the pace and hit .314 after the All-Star break, pushing his average to .244 on the season. His glove and arm, though, have never been as feeble as his early-season bat and it is for that reason, defense-defense-defense-that Baker worries when he is not in the lineup.
“Scott is better, a lot better and there is a chance he can play real soon,” said Baker. And his smile was as wide as the Ohio River flowing behind the right field stands in Great American Ball Park.