Kiel Roling Night a reminder that sometimes dreams don’t come true
This was Kiel Roling’s night.
Smiling, he signed autographs, posed for photos and handed out hugs like candy in a parade.
It was a great night for Kiel Roling. A happy night.
But for many smiling supporters who came to Suplizio Filed to celebrate Kiel Roling Night, there was sadness.
The dream is over. Not just for Roling but for so many people who saw him play as a youngster and followed his college and minor league career.
He was the kid, the guy who would go from Grand Junction and make it to Major League Baseball.
He was that good.
As Roling spotted Laura Johnson walking toward him, his smile grew, but Johnson’s smile was even bigger. She got a hug and an autograph.
“He’s a good kid, I still call him kid,” she said, smiling.
She taught Roling as an eighth-grader at Bookcliff Middle School. On Thursday, she got her first and last Kiel Roling autograph. She had her former student sign an article from The Daily Sentinel and it will go up on the school’s library Wall of Fame.
When Roling announced that he was done with baseball, it was a tough day for people like Johnson.
“It was sad. I’ve watched him for a long time,” she said. “I was hoping he would make it.”
Roling was a first baseman in the Colorado Rockies system and Johnson had a dream.
(Todd) Helton was always my guy and I was hoping someday Kiel would take over for him,” she said.
The headline in April surprised the entire region: “Roling retires from baseball.”
Roling smiles again when asked if he’s still comfortable with his decision to shelve the dream he had since he was about 5 years old.
“Absolutely. I have never been more comfortable with any decision in my life other than probably marrying my wife,” he said. “That was the best decision I made other than retiring.”
He smiled, then took a seat beside his wife, Stevie, and his family.
Before Thursday night’s game between the Grand Junction Rockies and Ogden Raptors, Roling spoke to a clubhouse full of dreamers.
Every Rockies’ player hung on the words of this guy who didn’t quite make it. They’re too young to comprehend the mountainous challenge facing them to make the Major Leagues.
The odds are against every one of them but the dream remains alive.
“I just told them to enjoy the time they have,” Roling said. “This career can be short-lived or it can be long. Work as hard as you can for as long as you can.”
And who knows?
It wasn’t too long ago that Roling was sure he’d be playing in Coors Field, not being handed a plaque on Kiel Roling Night at Suplizio Field.
Roling’s retirement left Grand Mesa Little League Director Dave Mantlo stunned.
“I cried. My wife cried, too,” he said at the game Thursday night.
Mantlo has watched more baseball players than anyone in the valley and he doesn’t even blink when he says Roling was the best.
“By far the best I’ve ever seen in this valley,” he said. “He hit home runs twice as far as anyone else I saw. He would hit the house across the street, he would regularly hit the roof of that house.
“I told his granddad when Kiel was 8 years old he’s going to make it. There was no doubt in my mind, he was going to make it.”
But he didn’t. It wasn’t for the lack of hard work, lack of determination, lack of desire. It’s just that tough to make it to the Major Leagues.
At 27, Roling realized it was time to get on with his life.
But it’s the dream of every kid who slips into the batter’s box.
“I have kids all the time ask ‘Do you think I can make the pros?’ ” Mantlo said. “I tell them it’s a pyramid and the Major Leagues is at the pinnacle.”
For Kiel Roling the dream is over. For his fans, former coaches and all the supporters who watched a powerhouse youngster smash home runs onto roofs, the dream is over, too.
For the wide-eyed youngsters who walked away with a Kiel Roling autograph Thursday night, it’s unlikely they even know who he is. The signed program, slip of paper or newspaper will probably end up at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.
Forgotten or discarded.
Roling came close but didn’t quite make it. But he came close. Not many around here have come that close.
“You have to have a backup plan,” Johnson said.
It’s now time for the backup plan.
Many people have to be thinking one thing: If Kiel Roling can’t make it, can anybody?
“I think he had a good ride. He learned a lot, grew a lot so he’s a better person,” Johnson said.
It was a great ride. Roling came close to living the ultimate dream.
On Kiel Roling Day, it reminding us all that sometimes dreams don’t come true.
That’s life, whether it’s on or off the baseball diamond.
But he sure could smash a baseball.
The name and legend of Kiel Roling will live on around Grand Junction.
He was that good.