DENVER -- As the fans meandered into a damp, drizzly Coors Field during batting practice before the 2021 All-Star Game on Tuesday afternoon, Denver-area native Taylor Rogers stood in the outfield, heaving baseballs into "The Rockpile," that behemoth of a seating section towering above the spruce and pine trees beyond the center-field wall.
He remembers buying $1 tickets up in those seats, all those years ago, not knowing that, one day, in the shadow of those seats, the bullpen phone would ring during a Midsummer Classic and his name would be called.
It's slightly less poetic, then, that the first thought that ran through Rogers' head when his name was called was, "Why me?"
"Liam Hendriks was down there, so I was like, 'Ah, that's weird,'" Rogers said.
Half an hour later, following the American League's 5-2 win, as Rogers slowly meandered his way across the vast expanse of the Coors outfield from the bullpen to the dugout, he made sure to look around. After a blur of a Monday during which he was named a last-minute replacement to the AL squad for his first All-Star team -- in front of his hometown crowd -- he said that he needed to keep reminding himself to slow down.
So, he did. In that moment, walking across the field, he made sure to get those "mental shots," in remembrance of a day in which he never did make it into the game to bring that journey full circle -- but one that he'll cherish all the same.
"I think, just proud," Rogers said. "Just proud. This was a few years coming instead of more so just this first half."
Had it not been for an improbable sliding catch by a first baseman playing the outfield, Rogers might have had the chance to take the mound at his childhood ballpark for the first time in a game -- ever.
Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes had loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning. Kris Bryant was up, with the lefty-swinging Omar Narváez on deck. That was probably going to be Rogers' hitter. He'd asked manager Kevin Cash to find him three lefties. One would have had to do.
But Angels first baseman-turned-left fielder Jared Walsh ran in on Bryant's topspin-heavy liner and made that sliding snag in a flurry of limbs -- preserving the AL's 5-2 lead and sending Rogers back to the bench. Hendriks pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.
"Only baseball, right?" Rogers said. "Only baseball."
"I'm a big fan of his," Hendriks said. "I'm a big fan of what he's able to do. I would have loved to see him get out there and get in front of his home crowd after being on the couch."
It wouldn't be surprising to see Rogers back on this stage, considering he's been one of the game's elite left-handed relievers for several years. In his first trip, he was still able to take that field, in front of his family and hometown fans, having pocketed all these memories.
"It was pretty cool," Rogers said. "Didn't take much to get loose. I really didn't get too far into it enough to really get the full adrenaline bump, but [getting into the game] would have been really cool."
Those memories included watching teammate Nelson Cruz and Aroldis Chapman holding court with several younger Latin American players in front of Cruz's locker -- including Teoscar Hernández, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.
Cruz also didn't see much of the field in his seventh career All-Star appearance, grounding out on the first pitch of his ninth-inning at-bat against Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. But, just as with Rogers, the story to be told there was off the field.
Did you find yourself wondering why the AL infield was shifting in an exhibition game, of all things?
It turns out that Cruz, idle for the game's first eight innings, took it upon himself to wear the analytics crown in the dugout, directing the positioning of the AL infielders -- from Guerrero to Devers, from Joey Wendle to Tim Anderson -- according to his own knowledge of the National League hitters. Apparently, nobody stopped him.
"I was the infield coach, I guess," Cruz said with a shrug. "I was the one to do the shifting the whole game. I was calling. I was moving them, 'You go here, you go here.' They let me do it."
He swears that he's not preparing for a future managerial gig or anything -- and he's not coming for Twins infield coordinator Tony Diaz's job, either. As is always the case, he's just trying to have some fun.
That much was clear in his brief appearance on the field, too, when he was mic'd up for that groundout off Kimbrel -- and let the hurler know what he should have done differently.
"I was looking for a fastball, and he gave me that," Cruz said on air. "I told him to throw it harder so I could hit it better."
It's a shame, then, that Kimbrel wasn't an AL infielder.