Rogers’ reward: Life around ballpark leads to Hall of Fame for Tennessee man
Thomas Rogers started out as a go-fer for all the baseball activities at the former home of USA Baseball in Millington, Tennessee, but he didn’t mind.
Rogers, who grew up in Millington, was happy to be involved in the game.
Nearly 30 years later, Rogers is now the director of the Millington Baseball Stadium and the NJCAA Division II World Series assistant tournament director.
He is being inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame tonight at Two Rivers Convention Center.
“I was very surprised, not being a coach, it’s a special thing for me,” Rogers said. “I was surprised just to be honored. I do look forward to seeing good baseball. I do know most of the coaches. We go to the ABCA Convention every year. I’ll see a lot of people.”
Rogers started helping out when his then-boss Bade Howard, who owned the local telephone company, built a 1,000-seat baseball stadium and started an American Legion program.
“At the time, we were one of the nicest places, if not the nicest, other than Florida,” Rogers said. “The field is still as nice today as it was then.”
In 1985, the USA baseball program was looking for a permanent home, so Howard put in a bid.
After adding another 4,000 seats and locker rooms, USA Baseball chose Millington for its home.
Millington is 10 miles north of Memphis and has one of the largest naval bases in the country. Ammunition was made there during World War II.
“A lot of naval people came back and retired here because of the hospitality,” Rogers said.
Howard hired John Daigle as the director of the USA Baseball Stadium. Rogers was his assistant.
Rogers immediately wanted to get involved in whatever way he could, so he served in a hospitality role for the USA Baseball players coming to town.
“When the Olympic team was here, each player had a host family,” Rogers said. “They stayed on the base for security purposes. They were players like Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Jim Abbott, Todd Helton and R.A. Dickey.
“They stayed on the base, but they had a host family. They had potluck dinners at least once a week. We supported them like a parent away from home. We always had good relationships with people.”
The next year, Millington was awarded the NJCAA Division II World Series and Rogers helped arrange transportation and logistics. He became a part-time employee at the telephone company and part-time at the stadium.
The stadium became home for USA Baseball, the NJCAA Division II World Series, American Legion and high school baseball games, including one of the largest high school invitational tournaments in the country.
“We feel like we’ve contributed to the junior college program,” Daigle said. “Tommy’s done a great job. He’s the go-to guy to get things done. He’ll work tirelessly to make it happen. I’m glad to see him get that recognition.”
Daigle was inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame 2009.
“That was my first trip out there. They do an unbelievable job with the World Series. It was a super trip,” he said.
“I wear that ring around with pride. It’s one of the highlights of my life.”
The duo provided assistance to NJCAA All-Star teams, supplying them a training site at USA Stadium in addition to other services like transportation, housing, meals, etc.
In 2004, Rogers was invited by the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association to assist with its All-Star team that traveled to and competed in Beijing, China.
“While China was getting ready to host Olympics, they asked the junior colleges to play them to improve their play and become better players,” Daigle said. “It was supposed to be every other year for eight years. Tommy and I went with the junior college all-stars to China and played the Chinese professional teams.
“It was quite an experience. They were supposed to come back to Millington, but Major League Baseball got directly involved with Japan and it ended up being a four-year program.”
Since then, the NJCAA Division II World Series moved to Enid, Oklahoma, Daigle retired and Rogers is now the director of the stadium, which continues to host numerous baseball games each year.
Rogers has continued to lend his support and assistance to the coaches association in scheduling international competition.