10/09/12 11:22 AM ET
Indians' Rogers shows resiliency after loss of father
By Zack Meisel / MLB.com
If only he hadn't had so much luggage, if only he would have sided with the voice in his own head, if only he had retreated home a day or two earlier -- perhaps things would have unfolded differently. The sequence in which they did play out, however, is so firmly entrenched in Rogers' mind that it has taken him nearly a year to rise above the deep waters of mental and emotional affliction that nearly drowned his Major League career.
A few days after the conclusion of the 2011 campaign, the right-hander called his ailing father during his layover at Miami International Airport. Danilo was in transit to the hospital near the capital in their native Dominican Republic.
Danilo asked Esmil, the youngest of his five sons, how many bags he was toting with him on his flight back to Santo Domingo. When Esmil replied that he was bringing six or seven, his father advised him to take his luggage home first rather than head directly to the hospital.
As always, Esmil complied.
"I did what he told me, and when I got to the hospital, he didn't even recognize me," said Rogers, now a member of the Indians' bullpen. "That's how bad his condition was. It was really bad."
The next day, Danilo succumbed to colon cancer. Nothing could prepare Esmil for the anguish and grief. He suffered, both on the field and away from the diamond.
"My dad was everything for me," Rogers said. "We were really close. My dad is responsible for everything in my career in baseball."
Danilo first underwent surgery in 2011, just before Esmil and his brother, Eddie, left for their respective big league clubs' Spring Training sites. His father's condition weighed heavily on Esmil's mind each time he toed the rubber. Esmil inscribed the words "Papi, Espera para mi" (or "Daddy, Wait for me") on the inside of his cap.
"He told me, 'I'm going to be better. You go and play baseball,'" Rogers said.
The mental baggage proved too much to handle, with Rogers fighting for a spot in the Rockies' rotation and his father facing a much more dire battle.
Rogers scuffled through the 2011 season, posting a 7.05 ERA in 18 appearances (13 starts). He surrendered 110 hits in 83 innings, and had the Rockies wondering if he could ever sidestep the adversity after his father fell ill.
"It's not just last year. It's this year, too," Rogers said. "Everything I do, every time I go to the mound, every time I do something at the stadium, I just think of my dad."
The Rockies finally gave up on Rogers in June of 2012, designating him for assignment after he compiled an 8.06 ERA in 23 appearances. He packed his bags and pondered throwing away what had been a rocky career.
But if there was one lesson his father taught him, he said, it was to work hard and resist the urge to cave until he had nothing left to give. Danilo persevered through months of treatment and radiation before cancer claimed his life. How would he look upon his son quitting baseball at the age of 26?
Colorado agreed to deal Rogers to the Indians for $150,000 on June 12. He arrived in Cleveland armed with a mid-to-high-90s fastball and the motivation to make his father proud.
Rogers made the most of his opportunity, going 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 44 appearances while tallying 54 strikeouts in 53 innings to quickly assume a spot in the thick of the Tribe bullpen. More importantly, with his mother, Altagracia, and his 45-year-old brother, Dario, now living with him, he has discovered a once-elusive comfort zone.
"Your first opportunity might be your last one," Rogers said. "You don't know where you're going to be. I want to be here."
Upon Rogers' departure from Colorado, former Rockies skipper Jim Tracy questioned what role he could fill on a pitching staff. In a matter of a few months, Rogers evolved into one of Cleveland's most dependable bullpen arms.
"When we first got him, I didn't know anything about him," said Indians closer Chris Perez. "But I knew somebody that was in Colorado's bullpen, and I texted him and said, 'What's this guy's deal?' I saw his numbers and saw that they weren't good. I said, 'Why are we picking up this guy?' My buddy told me he has a great arm, and he just had a little confidence issue and he got off to a bad start over there.
"He was right. He has a really good arm and he has gotten off to a great start here."
Esmil lives every moment in his father's memory. His close friends and family even call him "Danny."
Each time he enters a game, the hard-throwing hurler digs his long fingers into the dirt behind the pitching rubber and etches his father's name. Then he reaches back and fires 97-mph heaters aimed to please the man who taught him how to play the game.
"I'm sad that he can't be here to see what I'm doing right now, but I'm really happy that he's seeing me from up there," Esmil said. "I just try to do the best that I can to show my dad and show everybody that I can pitch and I have the talent to be here."