Thursday May 15, 2014Consistency in Circle: Rogers Winding Up, Winding Down Great Gators Career
Senior right-hander Hannah Rogers has 120 wins in her four seasons at Florida.
Senior right-hander Hannah Rogers has 120 wins in her four seasons at Florida.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The way Tim Rogers remembers it, his daughter was maybe 13 or so at the time and playing softball at the All-Stars level. Hannah Rogers was in the circle and things weren’t going well. Batters weren’t chasing her pitches. Umpires weren’t giving her calls. Hitters weren’t making outs.
“That was the only time I can remember anything you might call a little emotional kind of episode, you know?” Tim Rogers said. “But we nipped it in the bud pretty quickly.”
How did young Hannah’s “episode” manifest itself? A temper tantrum? Some words for the ump? Maybe a glove slammed to the ground?
“No, no, nothing like that,” dad said. “Just a few tears.”
With that fleeting moment came a talking to about composure; about understanding that some days are about fighting through adversity and keeping cool while doing so.
Which brings us to present-day Hannah Rogers, the Florida flamethrower and virtual ice princess on the mound who is nearing the end of a sensational career with the Gators and stands as the NCAA’s active leaders in career victories with 120, has struck out more than 800 and along the way has demonstrated nothing but stoicism whether in good or bad times.
“She’s got herself a pretty good poker face now,” her father said.
It goes awfully well with her blank game face, not to mention that arsenal of pitches that in the coming weeks figures to make Rogers, the senior from Lake Wales, Fla., a rare four-time All-American, the first for the UF softball program.
“I can be really goofy off the field and I like to have fun, but when I’m on the mound I just try to get really focused, I don’t say very much and I block stuff out so that I don’t really hear anything around me,” she said. “I never want to put myself in a position where someone can read me and think I’m getting rattled or maybe see that I’m pitching good and or thinking I’m cocky about how I’m doing.”
Look for that Rogers this weekend when the fifth-seeded Gators (45-11) open NCAA regional play with a date against Florida A&M (24-27) at Pressly Stadium. For UF, the goal is to clear out the rest of the four-team field -- UCF (41-16) and Stetson (38-12) are also in the bracket -- by Sunday night and be home next weekend for a Super Regional that would serve as a gateway to the Women’s College World Series.
Rogers, who stands 23-8 this season with an earned-run average of 1.83, has pitched in plenty of high-stakes games among her 193 career appearances and 944 innings. So Florida’s 10th straight year of hosting NCAAs is hardly going to shake someone who’s already pitched in two WCWS.
Then again, nothing does.
“She’s just steady, that’s really the best way to describe Hannah Rogers, and for a coach that’s what you want,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “She shows up everyday and you know exactly what you’re going to get. Some days, she’s been unhittable. Other days, she’s been very human. But it’s never because of a lack of caring, or a lack of trying or lack of energy. She’s just blue-collar, workman-like, and I wouldn’t change anything about her.”
Probably couldn’t even if he wanted to.
Her body language and facial expressions basically don’t change whether she’s throwing a no-hitter (Rogers has two in her career) or getting pulled in the first inning of the WCWS for control problems (like last year against Tennessee).
“If you didn’t have the scoreboard, you wouldn’t know if she’s winning or losing,” Walton said.
Once off the diamond, Rogers morphs from her robot mode and into a fun-loving, fiery teammate in the dugout. She’s the one calling for teammates to get out their rally items. She’s the one doing what junior and fellow pitcher Lauren Haeger called a “vibe dance” to get the Gators jacked up.
“That’s the Hannah we know,” Haeger said. “And we all look up to her.”
Haeger is an incredibly accomplished pitcher in her own right, with 40 career wins, more than 300 strikeouts and the team’s top ERA this season at 1.71. But Haeger is the anti-Rogers when it comes to on-field demeanor. She gets amped and tries to do the same for her team. And that’s OK. There are different ways to succeed.
But Haeger admires how Rogers gets it done in that unflappable fashion.
“I wish I could control my emotions better sometimes,” Haeger said.
Rogers’ flat-line consistency traces to her Lake Wales roots, where her father, a former baseball player in his youth, spent countless hours with his two daughters hitting and pitching on their seven-acre home in Polk County.
“We had a barn and horse,” she said.
A batting cage and pitcher’s circle, too.
Tim Rogers recalls Hannah being able to spin the ball pretty good from the outset of her interest in the game. Her father saw the gift and zeroed in on fundamentals.
“She didn’t learn how to throw any junk pitches until she was 14 years old,” he said. “I wanted her to learn how to put a fastball and off-speed pitch anywhere I wanted it, to the point where she could do it with her eyes closed.”
How’d that work out?
Rogers was the star of her Lake Wales travel team that won the 2005 World Series in Seattle. Two years later, playing for the Gold Coast Hurricanes, her team won the national championship in Oklahoma. Then came a state title for her high school, Florida Gatorade Player of the Year honors, an early commitment to Florida State, then a late change of heart and signing with the Gators in 2010.
“She’s the exact same person now as when she got here,” Walton said.
Better pitcher, though. Smarter and more dedicated to her craft.
“She’s grown so much,” pitching coach Jennifer Rocha said. “She’s gone from being a thrower to a pitcher.”
Rogers has become a film rat. She’ll spend extra time studying and analyzing her delivery, batters’ tendencies and what other pitchers are doing.
No nuance is too subtle in her quest to find an edge.
“My freshmen year, I just went out there and threw. I didn’t so much care about what was going to happen to me and the results, so I just did what Coach Rocha told me to do,” Rogers said. “But now, as a senior, I think I’m smarter. I look where the batter is standing. I read their feet. The first pitch, I read the swing and look for holes. When I watch film, I’ll watch [opposing] batters four times and see what they like and what they don’t like.”
From there, she takes the field and does her stuff. Usually without expression. An exception, though, is the pre-game ritual when Rogers, Haeger and sophomore catcher Taylore Fuller huddle the team and lead the Gators through a different sort of “vibe dance” to set the game-day mood.
“That’s our time to get pumped up,” Haeger said. “Hannah goes first.”
Rogers has her routine and rarely will deviate from it. After collecting the 16th-most wins in the history of NCAA women’s softball, why would she?
“She pretty much stays in character,” Rocha said. “There are times, though, when she’ll say something witty and you’re like, ‘Hey, that was pretty funny.’ But it’s not expected. Very rarely is Hannah going to surprise you.”
Time will tell, though, if Rogers can keep it all together as she plays out the final days of her career. It could end this weekend. Maybe next. Preferably, in Oklahoma City, but there are no guarantees even for a team that’s been there five of the last six years.
That’s why Rogers just might take a minute or two to appreciate her surroundings the next week or so; especially the grounds around Pressly Stadium that have been so good to her.
And vice versa.
“You’re here four years and, all of a sudden, this is it. You can’t take anything back. You’ve made family with all the girls and coaches and everybody else you’ve come to know over the years,” Rogers said. “Yeah, that might get to me a little, but it hasn’t hit me yet ... and I don’t want it to.”
Well, what do you know.
Hannah Rogers smiled a sentimental smile.
Don’t look for one this weekend.