Baseball is way of life for Central graduate
By PATTI ARNOLD
Kiel Roling has left the tools of ignorance behind.
A catcher since his Little League days, the former Central High School and Arizona State University baseball player grabs his mitt and heads to first base these days as a professional player for the Asheville Tourists, the Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
“It feels like a lifetime ago I was catching,” Roling said earlier this month as he waited for the rain to stop during a road trip to Lexington, Ky.
“First base is natural. I really do like it. I come to the park and go to right to first. It’s normal now. It wasn’t normal last summer.”
Last summer, Roling was wrapping up his junior season at Arizona State as a catcher/designated hitter for the Sun Devils, who reached the College World Series. Roling was drafted by the Rockies, signed and reported to the Casper Ghosts, the Rockies’ rookie club. That’s where his transformation to a first baseman began.
“Last year I was drafted as a catcher and when I got to Casper last summer they told me, ‘We’re going to put you at first.’ I was like, all right,” Roling said. “I started playing first and they liked me over there.”
In the rookie league, you do what the skipper says if you want to stick around, and Roling wants to stick around the game.
“Growing up, people always asked what my secondary plan was. I don’t have one,” he said. “I’ve wanted this for a long time. I love going to the park every day and playing baseball. I don’t see myself doing anything else. It is a grind and it isn’t for some people.
“When you have two (bad) games in a row and you’re 0 for 10 you might say, ‘should I be doing this still?’ It crosses your mind, but I’m fortunate enough to have this be my job right now. I play a kids’ game for my job and I’m thankful for that.”
The game, though, is also a business.
“It is such a cutthroat game and you don’t want to get left behind,” he said. “You almost think you have to play through injuries. I had a messed-up quad (during spring training) and I’d hit a single and was trying to run.
“I couldn’t do it any more. I had to pull myself out. I pushed it and it didn’t happen. You try to push it to the limit and you push too much and you get hurt for the long haul.”
This month, Roling had to deal with his second injury of the season, a knee injury that sidelined him for more than two weeks. He returned to the lineup Saturday.
The quadricep muscle injury during spring training caused Roling to stay behind in Tucson for three weeks to rehab in extended spring training.
It paid off, though. In his first game this season, April 26 at home against Greenville, Roling, who is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, tripled.
“In spring training I had two triples in a game and I think that’s how I hurt my quad,” he said, laughing. “I come out here and triple in my first game. I thought about pulling up at second, let the fast guys get the triples.”
Despite the big hit in his first game, the first couple of weeks were a struggle as Roling adjusted to the higher level of pitching.
“I hit a rough patch getting adjusted,” he said. “I was just trying to get one hit per game, shoot for that. A couple is even better.”
He leads the Tourists with a .341 batting average, with eight doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI. Defensively, he’s shown he can play first, with only one error.
“Being able to read ground balls, when to charge and when to stay back, keeping your glove down,” he said, ticking off some challenges of his new position.
One reason Roling was moved to first was to save his legs for what really got him noticed — his power.
“They want to make sure my power is always there,” he said. “Being a bigger guy, my speed is never going to be there. They want me to stay healthy and my knees are good.”
Roling hopes to have a good enough season and a good showing at spring training in 2010 to move up to the Class A Advanced club in Modesto, Calif., or even better, to the Class AA club in Tulsa.
Right now, though, he’s not worried about moving up. He’s more concerned with staying healthy and staying on the field.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” Roling said. “It’s not just a kids’ game. It’s a hard job, you’re on your feet eight hours a day. You learn to love it.”