A’Liyah Rogers, a member of the softball and basketball teams at Free State High, has spent loads of time playing in front of crowds. On Monday, however, just the idea of playing catch seemed a little intimidating.
Even though Rogers was on the field for the All-Star Home Run Derby, Monday at Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, Mo., the Firebirds senior didn’t mind sitting off to the side and watching instead of being a subject of the action.
“I probably would’ve been real nervous,” Rogers said of the prospect of throwing or hitting at the home of the Kansas City Royals, with thousands of fans in the stands and even more people watching on ESPN.
That didn’t mean Rogers and Bryce Page, a recent graduate of Free State, didn’t thoroughly get a kick out of being a part of the festivities, though. The two represented the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence at the Home Run Derby, where youngsters from metro area clubs were paired with one of the eight derby participants. After taking in MLB All-Star FanFest Monday afternoon, the clubbers attended a news conference, where Rogers found out she would be teamed with the Colorado Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez, while Page was paired with Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Though Rogers was more familiar with the Detroit Tigers’ Prince Fielder and the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano, she quickly became a Gonzalez fan. The Rockies outfielder gave Rogers his cap, which she proudly wore as she rooted him on later that night.
“It was kind of a bummer that he got kicked off after the first round,” Rogers said, after Gonzalez’s four home runs weren’t enough to advance, “but it was cool.”
Page, who wore a Cardinals cap from Beltran, had a little more luck with the St. Louis all-star, who knocked out 12 before being eliminated in the second round. But neither of the Lawrence fans got to watch their MLB partner in the finals, where Fielder (28 total homers in three rounds) beat the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista, 12-7. So the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence missed out on a $50,000 donation from State Farm.
Still, it was a night to be starstruck and speechless for Page, who loves baseball and has played at the American Legion level. He couldn’t believe he got close enough to see the stitching on the jerseys of some of his favorite players, such as Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.
The best part of the evening, Rogers said, was being on top of the action — the club members had seats on the field — and getting to interact with MLB all-stars. She even gave a high-five to hometown favorite Billy Butler, the Royals designated hitter.
And although she was just a spectator, the night ended with Rogers’ feeling a little like a celebrity. She didn’t bring her phone on the field with her, but when she retrieved it after the derby, it was flooded with texts and messages, most of them wondering: “How the heck did you get out on the field?”
Erika Zimmerman, director of development for Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, said Rogers and Page were selected for their outstanding character and interest in athletics.