DIXIE STATE SOFTBALL
Rogers overcomes brush with death to return to family, softball dugout
By Garrett Faylor
ST. GEORGE — Spend five minutes with Doug Rogers and you’re sure to hear all about Dixie State softball. A caution, however: Thinking he’ll let you off the hook in just five minutes is a terrible, terrible mistake.
He’ll talk about upcoming wedding dates for past players, GPAs of current players and future signees as many as four years away.
One thing the assistant coach won’t talk about, though, is himself.
Rogers has spent 13 years as an assistant, a live-battingpractice pitcher, a clubhouse builder, an honorary “grandpa” to the young women of the softball team, a volunteer and many other things he’d cringe at taking credit for.
“This year the college gave me an award, Outstanding Volunteer or something,” Rogers said. “Those kind of things are tough. That’s not what I’m here for.“ As part of head coach Randy Simkins’ staff, Rogers also won his second National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s Coaching Staff of the Year award.
And what a year it’s been.
The Red Storm softball team finished its 51-10 season, culminating in a pair of wins at the NCAA Division II Softball World Series in Salem, Virginia — a season made all the more savory by the fact that last August Rogers lied on a hospital bed, shocked 37 times before being brought back to life.
“I asked the heart surgeon, ‘Is that a record?’ and he said, ‘You were shocked many times more than anybody that’s ever survived,’” Rogers recounted.
While working around a ditch filled with swamp water near Pine View High, Rogers became the first person in the state to contract West Nile virus — him, and a horse, he added lightly. It’s likely a mosquito bit Rogers, but he doesn’t remember it. “It was like having the worst flu you’ve ever had times about five,” he said. “You hurt from top to bottom. Very shortly after I was admitted, I got to a point where the thing that I just couldn’t wait for was every two hours they’d give you a morphine shot for the pain.”
The West Nile virus turned into meningitis. Then just four days later, Rogers, who had had two stents put in his heart in 1995, suffered a heart attack and a subsequent six-way bypass surgery.
“When I got done, the doctor asked me, ‘You’ve got something you really want to get back to, don’t you?’” Rogers recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah. I do. My family and 18 softball players.’” But, according to Simkins, “softball players” is redundant.
“He’s embraced this team,” Simkins said. “As soon as they show up on campus, they’re like one of his daughters.”
So, of course, surviving a week of West Nile virus, a heart attack and a six-way bypass was not enough for Rogers. What mattered most was getting back to his family, both on and off the field, and the game he loved.
“My dear wife was right there with me the whole time, hardly ever left the hospital,” said Rogers, who lost 40 pounds between his bout with West Nile virus and the heart surgery.
“When he first came back, he couldn’t throw very many pitches, and he was a lot slower than he is right now,” junior first baseman Sheila Gelter said. “He was hurting after every practice. It probably took him a solid month before he could throw to our entire team and be OK.
“I think he has such a love for the game, and I think he has such a huge heart, especially for us girls. He has such a great relationship with us that I think it meant so much to him.”
Rogers slowly worked back into form. And as important as his presence in the dugout was to the team’s morale, his arm was to the team’s batting average.
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Dixie State University assistant softball coach Doug Rogers holds a softball signed by members of the 2014 softball team, his “granddaughters,’ Thursday. JUD BURKETT / THE SPECTRUM & DAILY NEWS
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“We don’t lead the country in hitting if we don’t have Doug because he gives us those live atbats,” Simkins said. “He’ll throw it in a spot and say, ‘OK, you need to work on hitting the ball the other way, so let’s work on that outside pitch,’ and he’s pretty consistent; he can throw it there and let the kids work on their swing. That’s an invaluable asset to have on a staff.”
Rogers’ story is remarkable on many different levels. But as he would tell it, he’s not much different than the 50 or so other Dixie State volunteers that work quietly behind the scenes in various capacities.
“I think they love just being involved and being at the games, being there and being a part of it, and I don’t know what they’ve done professionally prior, but I just think it’s a way for them to stay active and involved and associate themselves with a good thing,” said DSU athletic director Jason Boothe. “We’re just very grateful.”
But it’s a two-way street, suggests Rogers, citing the welcome party awaiting the softball team returning from the World Series as one example.
“The girls were tired, they were ready to get home, but every one of them took the time to go give every person in that group a hug and tell them thank you,” he said.
“When we came home from the World Series, as soon as we got off the bus, they were all there with balloons, telling us ‘thank you,’” Gelter said of the volunteers. “I think they’re probably our biggest support and our biggest drive really.”
There are many volunteers that help out at the local high schools and universities. Then there are many more who help those that do volunteer. For Rogers, it’s his wife, allowing him to spend time away; it’s Kent Garrett, a volunteer at Dixie High of whom Rogers says, “I don’t know if I could ever work hard enough or long enough to keep up with Kent Garrett;” it’s Dennis Miller, who helped build the softball clubhouse; it’s Vern Law, a Cy Young award winner for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who encouraged Rogers to pitch batting practice — as he did for the BYU baseball team — and do it as long as he could.
And perhaps there are a whole lot more people, just like Rogers, who would balk at the idea of receiving recognition.
In their minds, the work is its own reward.
“If I can make a difference in somebody’s life or a program or something like that and do it very quietly and almost confidentially, that’s what I’m after,” Rogers said. “You go help people and bless other people’s lives, and you’ll be fine. That’s what I’ve tried to base my life on. Those are the things that keep you going.”
Assistant coach Doug Rogers throws batting practice to Dixie State softball players at James I. Moyer complex in Salem, Virginia, before their final game of the NCAA Division II Softball World Series against West Texas A&M May 25. GARRETT FAYLOR / THE SPECTRUM & DAILY NEWS