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Jayson Hron: How to become a big league ball player

As the snow began to fall around them, Marshall's and Esko's high school baseball teams must have questioned what they were doing on Monday night. This is after all, hockey country, the place where dreams of playing professional baseball go to die.

As the snow began to fall around them, Marshall's and Esko's high school baseball teams must have questioned what they were doing on Monday night. This is after all, hockey country, the place where dreams of playing professional baseball go to die.
But for a few hearty high school souls here in the Twin Ports, dreams of playing big league baseball persevere through the frigid temperatures. Their greatest challenge, however, aside from the weather, may be finding the guidance they need to pursue their dreams.
Who can a player ask for major league advice? The list is a short one in the frozen north.
What's the secret to rising from the high school hardball ranks into the big leagues? Who better to ask than Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, 1997 National League Rookie of the Year.
The Jasper, Ind., native, who earned Indiana's "Mr. Baseball" award as the state's top high school player in 1993, rapidly evolved from a raw "Hoosier State" high school prospect into arguably the finest third baseman in the game today.
He's off to another hot start this season, leading the Phillies with four home runs in the team's first eight games. Last week, he faced down the daunting Randy Johnson and whacked an opening day home run, which he followed the next day with a 426-foot blast off Diamondbacks' starter Todd Stottlemyre.
All this after making a conscious effort to shift his focus from trying to hit the ball over the fence to ripping solid line drives.
"I have to concentrate on doing the things I like to do," said Rolen as we chatted post-game in the Phillies locker room. "I'm a gap-to-gap hitter, and I have to concentrate on that, then things work out."
Baseball according to Rolen
The perfect high school-to-pro baseball success story, Rolen also talked about the route from Indiana's dusty prep fields to the big leagues.
"(I learned) that you have to play as hard as you can and have fun," said Rolen. "I had a blast in high school baseball. As your pro career goes on, you tend to lose sight of that. As you go on, you realize that those were good times."
Standing on the verge of pure superstardom, Rolen carries himself with a professionalism that is becoming harder to find around Major League Baseball. He plays full throttle and through pain like a throwback warrior. It's the only way he knows to play the game. But despite his competitive fire, Rolen is quick to admit that the game is still about fun, whether it's high school or professional.
His advice to high school players aspiring to be major leaguers?
"Go have fun. That's what it means, and that's what it's for," said Rolen. "Sometimes the fun is taken away and that's a shame."
Fun is something easily lost sight of by players, coaches and parents alike. All parents search for ways to give their athletic children an edge over the rest, but Rolen said, the "edge" is often simply parental support. Nothing more, nothing less. As Rolen reminisces about his dad's involvement in his youth baseball career, you notice that there is one phrase you never hear: he pushed me. But it's clear that his dad was always there for him, as a smile comes to the young Phillie's face.
"My dad was great," said Rolen with a grin.
It's not surprising that the formula which carried Rolen from high school baseball to the big leagues turned out to be a simple one. He's not flamboyant, and he's not privileged. He's just a gritty ball player who had a dream and made it come true with a recipe that consisted of talent, hustle and a commitment to keep the game fun.
It's a recipe that can work along the shores of Lake Superior, too.
Jayson Hron is the sports editor of the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at jayson.hron@duluth.com or by telephone at 723-1207.

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