Journeyman Rogers Grows Old Quickly
Saturday, March 18, 2006
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 17 -- This is what a onetime highly regarded prospect with an age conundrum does to regain the respect of his bosses: He will play wherever they ask him to, diving for a ball at shortstop and then an inning later battling the sun for a fly ball in left field, though the only time he regularly played the outfield was when he was a boy.
"That's a long time ago," he said.
He will end his day with his uniform soiled from head to toe, sweat dripping from his forehead. Ed Rogers is 27 years old and he likely won't ever be Alex Rodriguez, with whom many people had compared him when they first saw the tall and lanky shortstop hitting line drives in batting practice five years ago.
Rogers is close to a job in the majors now as a utility player, closer than he has ever been, and that's all that matters, because the whole point of his journey was to get to the majors by any means necessary, even if it's as a bench player, and even if it took a few lies to do so.
It was the reason that his family, living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, agreed to change the date on his birth certificate, making Rogers a more enticing prospect than he should have ever been.
"I think the expectations were caused for two reasons," former Orioles general manager Syd Thrift said. "First, he had some exceptional talent at an early age, only to learn that his early age wasn't an early age. That probably had the most negative effect on his progress."
Rogers was born on Aug. 29, 1978, that much is certain. When the Orioles signed him in 1997, Rogers was thought to be three years younger, a significant difference in baseball chronology. Rogers arrived in major league spring training camp in 2001 and earned rave reviews because of his physical abilities, which were considered stellar for someone thought to be 19 years old. A year later, though, Rogers, in trying to obtain a visa to play in the United States, was found to have been three years older.
"That's something that's happened to many players in the Dominican," Rogers said. "It's something that happens in life. You have to leave it behind though."
But suddenly Rogers, who had been seen as the Orioles' most outstanding prospect, was no longer so special. He had never put up spectacular numbers in the minors, but the optimism was based on his physical abilities.
"Anyone who is projected to be in the major leagues before age 21," Thrift said, "usually is an all-star."
Since then, Rogers has mostly foundered in the minors. He has never hit more than .300 in a season and his 11 home runs in 2002 for Class AA Bowie are the most of his career. He's had brief call-ups to Baltimore in 2002 and again in 2005. After his monthlong stint with the Orioles last season, Baltimore officials told Rogers he should spend the offseason playing the outfield in winter ball.
"I'm trying to play the position as if I'm a 10-year veteran out there," Rogers said.
Rogers played relatively well in winter ball and has once again drawn raves for his play in big league camp. There may be no infielder in camp who plays better defense. While his play in the outfield is still lacking, he is putting in extra time to become proficient.
It does not appear Rogers has suffered any long-term effects from the alteration of his birth certificate. The money earned from his original contract with the Orioles helped buy his family a new house. His father, a former chauffeur, and mother, once a hat maker, no longer have to work.
"My family," Rogers said, "had been waiting for something like that to happen."