Indiana native Rolen selected for National Baseball Hall of Fame

The first thing Scott Rolen did upon learning he was selected for the National Baseball Hall of Fame was hug his parents. Then he stepped outdoors and played catch with his son Finn.

There is so much Americana ingrained in baseball, the wholesome image of passing the game down through generations that it was appropriate and sweet that the latest ballplayer elected became an instant symbol of family values.

Twice in a manner of minutes, the third baseman who excelled for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds, with a short stopover in Toronto, became a Norman Rockwell image.

The lone player chosen by the Baseball writers this year with more than 75 percent of the vote is as much Hoosier as a cornfield.

Rolen, 47, was born in Evansville, attended high school in Jasper, considered playing basketball at Indiana or Indiana State, had two siblings attend IU and for the last five years has been director of player development for the Indiana baseball team.

A fan visiting the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper will be struck by a keynote exhibit featuring a life-sized statue of Rolen.

Any person, in any field of endeavor, is honored to be chosen for any hall of fame. On the big stage, as careers unfold, automatic choices are recognized. Everyone expected Pete Rose, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to skate into baseball’s elite club. Yet the doors remain closed to them because they took a fork in the road.

And Rolen, who didn’t even think he would be drafted by a professional team, will be welcomed during a lavish ceremony in July.

Rolen spent 17 years in the majors, hit 316 home runs, knocked in 1,287 runs and batted .281. He was the National League rookie of the year in 1997, was an All-Star seven times and – this is critical – was an eight-time Gold Glove winner. This time quality fielding was appreciated rather than overlooked.

Rolen not only said he was humbled by the honor, he acted that way when he met sportswriters after his selection. He said he did not have one ballplaying idol as a youth since he was busier playing the game than watching it, but did have a poster of Don Mattingly on his bedroom wall.

Mattingly, from Evansville, also has his own special exhibit in the Indiana Hall, but has been overlooked for the larger Hall of Fame to the chagrin of many. The two men stay in touch, Rolen said.

“He was certainly a legend in our area,” Rolen said.

It was a humorous illustration of Rolen’s down-home personality that he deigned to wear a sport coat, if not a tie, for his public session.

“I haven’t put on a suit in 11 years,” he said.

It is just about 11 years since Rolen pulled on a big-league uniform when the Reds were good.

In 2010, when the Reds on the verge of clinching a playoff spot and Rolen said in the clubhouse, “No, it’s not just another day at the ballpark. We have the opportunity for a big night. We’ll wreck this place a little bit. I’m not sure the champagne is drinkable, anyway, no offense to whoever’s label is on it.”

Sure enough, when the champagne came out for the Reds, he predicted more of it would be sprayed into the air than guzzled down the throat.

When Rolen joined the Phillies, he was the linear descendent of Mike Schmidt, who many call the best-ever third-baseman. He said he didn’t feel any pressure to fill Schmidt’s spikes.

“That was never reasonable to me,” Rolen said. “I never thought I’d be a Hall of Famer. I never thought I’d get drafted.”

Coming out of high school, Rolen planned to play college basketball, even agreeing to a scholarship offer from Georgia.

Instead, he took the baseball path, from the start realizing it would not be easy. As a young player he said he knocked on the Baltimore Orioles’ clubhouse door and asked Cal Ripken Jr. for advice.

That Hall of Famer, who owns the consecutive games-played record, told him to show up and work hard and Rolen followed that plan.

As Scott Rolen spends free time these days re-living his highlight baseball moments through the Internet with his son, he can pass on the same advice to others about giving it your all, all of the time.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]