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McGair: Getting to know Cumberland native Mike Roose

February 26, 2012

Editor's note: This story about Cumberland's Mike Roose first appeared in The Times on July 7, 2010. To follow what Roose is up to nowadays, click here:

Title: Finding inner strength: Roose keeps PawSox in tip-top shape

Sports writer
In need of a quick breather after throwing a few rounds of batting practice on a recent Friday, Mike Roose opts for the air-conditioned home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium. It didn’t take long for the cool breeze to hit his face, at that point engulfed with tiny beads of sweat. Nor did it take much time for Roose to make the switch from moonlighting as a pitcher to that of his primary occupation, which is the strength and conditioning coach for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
By happenstance pitching prospect Felix Doubront appears, standing inches from where manager Torey Lovullo posts the lineup for his players to see and study.
“You run today?” inquires Roose, in his first year with the PawSox. The Red Sox have a strict in-season training program that their minor leaguers must adhere to. Roose is merely checking that Doubront is keeping on top of things in the days between starts.
“Yeah,” replies Doubront, traces of affirmativeness in his tone.
“You sure?” shoots back Roose. It’s his responsibility to make sure there’s no letup or slippage from the PawSox players. Peak physical condition is the only option accepted.
“Yeah,” answers a smiling Doubront, sounding like a broken record.
“Everybody’s workout is a little different. Some guys like doing certain things, some guys don’t,” explains Roose. “But you have to work with them. You have to push them. These guys know how close they are [to the majors].”
Satisfied with his on-the-spot appointment with Doubront, Roose, now with towel in hand, heads back outside. He gazes out to field, occupied with over two-dozen players and coaches filling the time by shagging fly balls and sharing conversations. To Roose, McCoy Stadium’s well-manicured playing surface is his office, an oversized one at that. The one located inside the clubhouse? That’s merely where he fills out paperwork.
In a sense McCoy Stadium also represents home. Roose was born at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket on June 23, 1981. At the same time, a few hundred yards away on Columbus Ave., Pawtucket and Rochester were busy lowering the curtain on a 33-inning, 832-pitch ultra marathon, better known as “The Longest Game.”
“It made me like the sport even more and have a passion for it. Plus it was a cool [factoid] to throw out there,” said Roose when asked about his linkage with the most significant date in PawSox history. “They used to give out the cups with all the innings wrapped around it. I had a dozen in the house, probably like every other Rhode Island kid.”
There is another prominent date that Roose, who spent his formative years growing up in Cumberland, holds up like a badge of honor. Actually two: July 4, 2002 and July 4, 2006. Those dates represent the beginning and the culmination of Roose’s tenure in the Air Force, where he served his country proudly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That means even more to me than most Americans,” Roose said about his Fourth of July roots. “More ironic things, I guess.”
This is about the path that a baseball-obsessed small-town kid follows on his way to landing a job in pro ball. Roose’s passion for baseball dovetails very nicely with his military background, which in turn aided him greatly in opening doors to possibilities that not even he could fathom.
HIS HOMELIFE IN CUMBERLAND wasn’t the steadiest. In fact Roose is unable to pinpoint exactly when his parents, Michael and Sherri, split, other than he was probably very little. Sherri relocated to Florida while Michael remained in Cumberland to raise their son.
“I don’t remember them being together,” Roose said softly.
The fractured family situation had a rippling affect on Roose. He had a hard time keeping his nose clean at Cumberland High, where he physically attended for his freshman and sophomore years. Mentally, though, his mind was someplace else.
“I was getting in a lot of trouble, got suspended a couple of times,” notes Roose.
Had it not been for baseball, who knows how much more mischief Roose could have landed in? He played Little League for Cumberland National, which seemed a million years removed from what transpired the spring/summer of ’96, when Roose was a ninth grader at Cumberland.
Describing himself as a solid hitter with a shaky glove, Roose was a key cog on the Cumberland Babe Ruth team that reached the World Series. That came a few months after Roose’s first bout of championship euphoria, when Cumberland High captured the freshman states.
“Those were the baseball highlights of my life prior to joining the PawSox,” said Roose.
Still, there was a void. Roose’s mom was merely a name to him, something he yearned to rectify. At age 16 he relocated to Cape Coral, Fla., where Roose joined a household that included a brother and a half sister.
“It was a steady environment for me,” Roose said. “Consistent.”
Spurred by the new home life, Roose grew more serious about baseball. He served as the catcher on what he dubbed, “a record breaking” Cape Coral High squad. He was no longer getting in trouble, the effect of baseball now becoming a 12-month commitment.
“When I moved to Florida, I said to myself, ‘If I get to play baseball year round, I’m going to display (my god-given abilities),’” mentions Roose when broached about the change in scenery. “I knew I was going to play baseball everyday, and I did.
“In Rhode Island, when you’re a freshman or sophomore, you don’t see 80 miles per hour. Going down to Florida, everyone at least is throwing 85,” added Roose. “You think you’re a big fish here – I felt I was one of the best kids in Cumberland – but then I moved and didn’t even know if I was going to play.”
Roose fared well enough to attract the attention of several junior colleges and Division II schools, the kind that eventually “pull guys into D-I programs.” He was recruited as a catcher/third baseman that hit left-handed. In the end Roose was sold on Mars Hill College in North Carolina thanks to the efforts of assistant Rick Baker, also a coach in the Cape Cod League.
“(Baker) brought me on a recruiting trip to the Cape League,” Roose said. “That allowed me [in June ‘99] to come home and see my dad for the first time in two years. I also saw my buddies graduate from Cumberland.”
It didn’t take Roose long to realize that Mars Hill College, famous for being surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains, was nothing like his upbringing in Cumberland and Cape Coral.
“Stuck out like a sore thumb,” he laughs. “There’s still moonshine in the mountains being made somewhere.”
His freshman season started off promising as Roose named the starting third baseman. Soon after his playing career started to unravel. A broken foot resulted from an awkward toe-tapping maneuver around the third base bag. Dejected, a redshirted Roose finished out the semester at Mars Hill before moving back to Rhode Island.
“I went to CCRI then tried to walk on at URI,” remembers Roose. “I talked to Frank Leoni (the coach at URI at the time) and he told me I wasn’t good enough.
“Basically baseball got away from me,” he continued, a somberness in his tone. “Not that I wanted that. I just wasn’t on a steady team. I didn’t know how to keep myself in shape. I didn’t know how to make it.”
TWO WEEKS FOLLOWING his harsh putdown, accompanied by the realization that playing baseball would cease being a fixture in his life, Roose had an epiphany. Like many Americans, Roose was angered and outraged by the 9/11 attacks.
Unlike many Americans, Roose vowed to take a direct approach. He signed up for military service not even days after the nation’s psyche was scarred by an intolerable act of violence. To those close to Roose, what made the move even more eye-popping was that he never had a family member serve in the military.
“I was moved, inspired,” Roose said. “Everyone thought I was crazy.”
Roose was 21 when he reported to basic training in San Antonio. After being stationed in Georgia he was sent to Iraq for the first time in 2003. He was in the country when the military campaign to liberate Iraq began in earnest on March 20 of that year.
“Our main job was to protect the air base. (Enemies) would try to shoot the planes down because they knew all of our supplies came in through airplanes,” Roose said. “That’s the only way you could get stuff into Iraq.”
Roose’s first tour lasted nine months, the last six coming in Afghanistan. All told he served four tours of duty in Iraq and was in Baghdad when U.S. forces apprehended Saddam Hussein.
“You tend to think about things a little different,” said Roose about the profound impact the four years he spent defending his country’s freedom had on him. “Especially when you have missiles blowing up around you.”
After getting honorably discharged, Roose, now 25, had a firm goal in mind as he prepared to reenter the world as a civilian, something that kept coming to him while organizing stickball games in the desert.
“By the time I graduate from college, I want to be working in professional baseball in five years.”
He wouldn’t have to come close to waiting that long.
THE REINFORCED DISCIPLINE, the attention to order and detail, both remained staples in Roose’s life long after exiting the military. So too was keeping fit, proper nutrition and how to build muscle, items which prompted a great deal of intellectual curiosity on his part. To satisfy his needs Roose soaked up knowledge by any means necessary, be it through books, magazines or the Internet.
Serious about landing a job in baseball through strength training, Roose headed for Florida State. He pursued a degree in exercise physiology, a four-year program that he completed in 2 ½ years (Roose graduated in 2009). Between the many hours he spent studying, Roose budgeted time for some hands-on experience at a sports performance facility in Tallahassee run by Adam Faurot, a former Red Sox farmhand and FSU teammate of J.D. Drew.
There Roose worked with a girl named Mandee Shipley. “I never put two and two together, but one day she comes up to me and says, ‘I told my dad about you.’”
It just so happened Mandee is the daughter of Craig Shipley, the head of international scouting for the Red Sox.
“She gave me his phone number; I was nervous when I called him,” Roose said. “It was the end of spring training last year and she said her dad would be in Fort Myers for another day. I was in Tallahassee and asked if I could come tomorrow to see him.
“He was really short on the phone with me,” Roose recalled. “I thought this would be a waste of my time, but I had to do it.”
The seven-hour drive from Tallahassee to Fort Myers gave way to a tired, yet determined Roose showing up at the minor-league complex at seven in the morning. Dressed in a collared shirt and dress slacks, Roose was primed for his first official job interview. The interview, conducted in Shipley’s office, started off innocent enough, which Roose didn’t think boded well for his chances.
“As soon as I said I had gotten out of the military a few years earlier, the whole interview changed from that point on,” said Roose. “I hadn’t even told (Shipley) of what I wanted to do other than I wanted to be in professional baseball and I don’t care what I have to do.”
Suddenly Shipley had all the time in the world for Roose. At lunch he was introduced to Pat Sandora, the strength and conditioning coordinator for all the Sox’ minor league affiliates. In no time Roose discovered that news travels fast in Red Sox Nation.
“First thing Pat said to me was, ‘I heard you were in the military.’ This was all in the same day,” a perky Roose said. “My head was pretty much spinning.”
Like his interview with Shipley, Sandora let Roose know that his time to impress him was short. He ended up sitting down for 45 minutes, talking with Sandora about ideas he had.
Just when Roose thought he had an in, Sandora leveled with him, informing that there weren’t any paying positions available. Luckily Roose had some money saved up.
“He didn’t have to pay me,” said Roose. “Anything to get my foot in the door.”
Three days after finishing up at FSU, Roose was ready for his summer internship with the Red Sox.
Wrote Sandora in an email: “You just had to give him a chance.”
WORKING IN HUMID conditions while rendering your services for free, it seems as if Roose was crazier then when he enlisted in the military. To him this was heaven. The experience he gained proved instrumental as his Fort Myers client list included John Smoltz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and current Boston wunderkind Daniel Nava.
He started to run low on funds in the fall, so Roose opted for graduate school at Georgia State. He headed up the baseball team’s strength and conditioning program, which in turn paved the way for his schooling to be paid.
Roose remained in close contact with Sandora, feeding him status reports of what he was doing at Georgia State. In turn Sandora mentally filed everything away. When the pair conversed one day last November, Sandora delivered some good news: Roose was the Red Sox’ choice to become the PawSox’ strength and conditioning coach.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Roose said.
Sandora delved further.
“When the position opened up last fall, Mike was our guy, hands down. We just needed him to have more face time with athletes. He got that opportunity at Georgia State. He had a little time to work on programming, motivation of the athletes and how to communicate/work with the coaching staff, administration, and athletes. We were hoping that he would come back with us, and the rest is history.”
ROOSE’S FAMILY WAS pleased as punch that he would be working so close by. Roose was ecstatic to be joining the PawSox for an entirely different reason.
“I was excited because I was getting promoted so fast,” he said. “I went from rookie ball to Triple-A.”
Through all the setbacks and incremental triumphs, the goal remained the same. Now that the coveted job in pro ball has been obtained, the reflections can begin. Not everyone can say his or her life story fits the definition of coming full circle. Mike Roose can.
From entering this world inside the white walls at Memorial Hospital to overseeing the fitness profile of ballplayers at McCoy Stadium, he’s gone through a spin cycle that is reserved for the select few.
“Mike’s the type of guy that when he puts his mind to something, he accomplishes his goal,” said Sandora.
There’s no doubting that.


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