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Rolen transforms backyard into world of hope

by Alan Schwarz
July 29, 2004

NEW YORK–-Scott Rolen is speechless.

The Cardinals third baseman has not driven in yet another game-winning run, or snared one more by-all-rights double with a flash to his right and howitzer to his left. Rather, he is remembering his time back in Philadelphia, the mornings he spent with sick children and their terrified parents at Temple and Hahnemann hospitals.

"I'd go there and the child would be laying in his or her hospital bed," Rolen recalls haltingly. "I would enter the room, and no matter what condition the child was in—it could be really bad, really bad—for that maybe five seconds, maybe 10 seconds, maybe three minutes . . . the life in that child . . . "

He pauses to collect himself.

"It goes straight to your heart. The life just fills up in that child. The smile that comes to the child's face. The pride in the parents watching that child, in a very difficult situation . . . That, to me, is healing. For 15 seconds, two minutes, whatever it is, during that time, that child is not sick . . . "

Rolen is overwhelmed. Dreamily so. And while many of us have that same reaction to his remarkable baseball skills—the primary gears responsible for the Cardinals' pulling away from the National League Central—he looks up with his earnest eyes on a horizon far deeper than this October.

When Rolen's plan comes of age in the next year or two, children with horrible diseases won't have to wait for him to come to their hospital. They will be able to come to him. To his backyard in rural Indiana, to 40 acres of horse rides and hope, to an escapist dream world of unmistakable fun.

Trading Heartbreak For Hope

Baseball players do a tremendous amount of charity work, their golf outings and memorabilia auctions raising millions of dollars for causes ranging from Lou Gehrig's Disease (Curt Schilling) to teen substance abuse (Derek Jeter) to children with cancer (Craig Biggio). But Rolen is donating something else. He's donating his lifestyle.

The Enis Furley Foundation—Rolen's charity group named after his golden retriever—is raising money to build a summer wonderland on his property specifically for gravely ill children and their families. Its array of nature-based activities will include horseback riding, boat rides and woodsy hikes, not to mention a miniature golf course and Wiffle-ball field. Kids and their parents will spent a weekend or week at the retreat and, for that brief time, trade fear for carefree fantasy.

The cost to its beneficiaries? Absolutely nothing.

"We're not trying to cure a disease," Rolen says. "But during that time we want these children to smile—to have that feeling, that elation of life. That feeling of health. And the families to feel that joy and pride to see their child—who's had a tough time—so happy."

The facility, to be named Camp Emma Lou—after another beloved Rolen pooch—plans to operate between May 1 and Nov. 1. Families, perhaps three or four at a time, would each stay in their own private cabin. Construction will begin this offseason.

With the help of Rolen's wife Niki, and his siblings Todd and Kristie, the Enis Furley Foundation has raised almost $1 million of the projected $3 million startup cost. Rolen is paying all the operational expenses while the staff pursues enough money to open next summer.

"We're focusing on recreational therapy and having as many enjoyable activities for the kids as we can," Todd Rolen says. "We're going to have magicians, jugglers, clowns—we're going to run the gamut. It's a build-it-and-they-will-come kind of thing."

Pull Up A Chair

Rolen has many more games this year than you think. Tyler Frenzel, a 10-year-old boy from Indianapolis who has leukemia and recently had a bone-marrow transplant, was at home one day when the doorbell rang.

It was Scott Rolen, who was immediately whisked on a tour of Tyler's bedroom and then to the family room, where a two-hour Playstation baseball showdown soon ensued. It wasn't close. Good thing for Rolen's MVP hopes that those stats don't count.

It's this type of interaction Rolen dreams of for Camp Emma Lou. When he and Niki are at home, particularly after he has retired, they'll invite the families over to their house for dinner. And Playstation 8.

"We'll have a lodge, too," Rolen says. "And for that weekend, hopefully, the children will have the time of their life. For that weekend, hopefully those children aren't sick."

Scott Rolen is known throughout baseball for his bat and glove, of course, but is most respected among his ballplayer peers for his consistent, flat-as-Indiana humility. The guy has probably never seen one of his 200-plus home runs go over the fence. By the time they do, as his fans go wild and he rumbles past second base, his head is invariably pointed nowhere but down.

All this time, we never knew what he was thinking about.

For more information about the Enis Furley Foundation, visit enisfurley.com or call toll-free 866-688-CAMP.

You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to alanschwarz@baseballamerica.com.

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