Saturday, August 6, 2011
Ballpark didn't intimidate Kenny Rogers
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No one has won more games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington than Kenny Rogers.
The newest member of the Rangers Hall of Fame, set to be inducted tonight in a pregame ceremony, was 54-27 with a 3.99 ERA in 113 starts at Rangers Ballpark. He pitched a total of 748 innings, most of them in a Rangers uniform, of course.
"I did try to learn any kind of changes I needed to make to my game," Rogers said. "If you give up a lot of fly balls, you're in trouble. You have to be able to pitch down in the zone and with a little bit of movement to get off the sweet part of the bat. I think I learned that after a while, but early on I was just a guy that threw the ball and throw it by you."
Not bad for a guy who was drafted in the 39th round as an outfielder and then converted into a pitcher. When he made that conversion, Rogers simply tried to overpower batters with his fastball and a changeup that had some movement and became a real weapon for him. When he became a starter he added the curveball and said he threw in a few other breaking pitches later in his career.
"I was a mop-up man, setup man, closer," Rogers said. "That helped me a lot because I understood the mentality, but also the differences between each role too. It helped me become a pretty good pitcher knowing how to pitch in any situation. Texas was difficult. Hardly anybody comes here and nobody comes back. I did that. That tells you how smart I am."
Rogers said he knew the conditions bothered the opposing pitcher and he tried to take advantage of that.
"The wind, the heat and you add those two components and there could be an offensive explosion if you get the ball up," Rogers said. "The climate is so hot that it's not a lot of fun to have to endure. The guys going through it now, it's hard. You know the offensive output here is higher than most of the others in the league. That keeps people from wanting to pitch here. I knew how much everybody hated it. I knew that was something they didn't like, so I was going to find a way to like it. If I liked it, it could be a benefit to me and I could win some games if I didn't let it mentally beat me."
Rogers never thought he'd be a top-flight starting pitcher when he was drafted by the Rangers near the end of the 1982 draft after scout Joe Marchese saw Rogers' arm one day when he was playing center field and thought he could pitch.
"He had a crystal ball," Rogers said. "It was the best, most amazing scouting job I've ever heard of. He was looking at a guy that was nothing. I had not even a speck of an idea of what he was talking about. He was going to make me a pitcher, but he saw me play right field one game in high school and made the effort to see me pitch in a senior league game and my coach at the time wouldn't let me pitch. So I was playing shortstop. I thought my chance was gone. But he drafted me anyway."
Rogers said he was 130 pounds, 5-foot-9 at age 17. Marchese told him he'd get bigger and throw harder and was left-handed, so it was worth the risk. Can you imagine a scout seeing a left-handed shortstop and figuring out he could pitch?
So the guy who lived on a strawberry farm in central Florida and didn't even play baseball until his senior year of high school was in professional baseball and pitching on a mound for the first time in a game other than a few times in Little League.
The Rangers didn't rush Rogers, letting him hone his craft in the minors with a steady rise through the system. It took Rogers seven years to break through to the majors.
"The Rangers organization was the perfect place for me to be," Rogers said. "It afforded me the luxury to take time to learn the things that I had to. I was starting below zero. You can't start with less than I had to try to be a pitcher. I was a professional pitcher and basically had never been on a mound before. Nobody would believe that if all the things were told. I was throwing my fastball and had no idea where it was going. I didn't even know what a slider was."
Rogers soaked up knowledge wherever he could, talking to players, coaches and scouts about what he needed to do and how to become a better pitcher. He assembled all of that knowledge and, like Marchese predicted, got bigger and stronger. He was a good athlete, becoming one of the better fielding pitchers in the game too.
"I didn't have anything to lose by trying things," Rogers said. "I was just some kid from a strawberry field. I wasn't afraid to fail. I was always open to learning something new."
His solid career has earned him a spot in the Rangers Hall of Fame, something he said means a great deal to him. He'll be inducted tonight with the first pitch backed up to 7:15 p.m. for the ceremony.