Esmil Rogers: A Punch in the Face
Sometimes it just takes a punch in the face for one to realize their true potential on the baseball field and in life. For Indians pitcher Esmil Rogers, it took two.
Rogers, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, signed with the Colorado Rockies Dominican Academy in 2003 and played in the Dominican Summer League. In three years as shortstop, Rogers hit .208 in 494 at-bats.
The DSL pitching coach recognized Rogers’ arm strength as an infielder and decided to convert him into a pitcher, fully aware of his potential on the mound.
“I tell [people] they made me a pitcher because I hit too much,” Rogers said. “They say, ‘They made you a pitcher, and you hit too much?’ I say, ‘Yes. I hit .300 in three years — .100, .100, and .100.’”
Rogers made the transition from infielder to pitcher with current Orioles reliever Pedro Strop, his former roommate at the Rockies Academy. While Strop flourished on the mound, Rogers struggled to keep men off base.
In 2006, both Rogers and Strop were promoted to the Casper Rockies (recently named the Grand Junction Rockies). Rogers went 2-6 in 15 starts (63.1 IP) with a 6.96 ERA, while Strop sported a 1-0 record in 11 appearances with a 2.08 ERA.
Rogers, 26, said his performance that year led him to doubt his talent.
“I pitched [in rookie league], but I didn’t pitch good like what I know I can do,” he said. “One day I was picking up all my stuff, and I said I wanted to quit baseball. I didn’t want to play anymore. I [wanted] to go to New York.”
Strop, who had experienced similar poverty growing up in the Dominican Republic, had other ideas for his friend.
“[Strop] hit me two times in the face, in my eyes,” Rogers said. “I started to cry, saying, ‘I don’t want to play baseball anymore.’ He told me, ‘You can throw 95 mph, and you want to go home?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He hit me again and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere. You have to pass through me.’”
Strop stood in the doorway, preventing Rogers from leaving his room at the academy. Rogers made several phone calls to his family members, including his brother, Eddie Rogers, 33, who was a shortstop for the Orioles at the time.
Eddie immediately questioned his brother’s desire to find a job in New York City.
“My brother said, ‘What are you going to do? You’ve never worked. The only thing you can do is play baseball,’” Rogers said.
Heeding the advice of his brother and closest friend, Rogers spent that offseason working with the pitching coach at the Rockies Dominican Academy. After receiving an invite to Spring Training, Rogers allowed just one earned run in 34 innings in spring ball.
“Me and my roommate went to the complex together, and we got a call from the Rockies GM,” Rogers said. “We got on the 40-man together, we became pitchers together, [I] got my debut in 2009, and he got his in 2009, too.”
Strop and Rogers made their Major League debuts just 15 days apart. Strop did not allow a run in 1.0 inning on August 28, 2009 at Minnesota. Rogers allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in 4.0 innings at San Diego on September 12, 2009.
In 38 appearances for the Orioles this season, Strop is 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA, while Rogers carries a 0.69 WHIP and a 2.25 ERA in 13 games with Cleveland.
The highs and lows of Minor League Baseball and of life have ultimately drawn the former roommates closer together. Strop, who had been there for Rogers at the crossroads of his life, named his two-year-old son “Rogers Strop” and asked Rogers to be his son’s godfather.
“We were roommates and really good friends because we played together,” Rogers said. “We are like brothers right now. Everything we do is together.”
While the lights and glamour of New York City once appeared to be his destination, Rogers is thankful for his “brothers’” guidance as he pitches under the lights for the Cleveland Indians.
“I think the only reason I wanted to go to New York is because I didn’t want to go back to the Dominican,” Rogers said. “There’s nothing to do where I’m from, anyway. The only thing everyone does over there is play baseball; that’s the tradition for my city, my country.”
-Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor