On Dec. 30, 2019, Bruce Rogers died at the age of 79. Rogers, who lived most of his life in Victorville, California, was a husband, father, military veteran and heavy haul trucker who enjoyed a career highlight of sorts when he transported a stolen one-man submarine back to its rightful
On Dec. 30, 2019, Bruce Rogers died at the age of 79. Rogers, who lived most of his life in Victorville, California, was a husband, father, military veteran and heavy haul trucker who enjoyed a career highlight of sorts when he transported a stolen one-man submarine back to its rightful owner.
Rogers, like all of us, was many things. And one of the many things about him was that he was a huge baseball fan. Over the past decade, he and his wife, Sharon, regularly traveled to Minor League ballparks throughout California -- and beyond -- so she could sing the national anthem. For Sharon, this endeavor opened a new chapter in what had already been a lifelong love of live performance. It allowed Bruce to further explore and share his passion for baseball, all while serving as Sharon's manager, driver and, of course, biggest fan.
Sharon most often sang the anthem at her and Bruce's hometown ballpark, a facility currently known as Adelanto Stadium. The California League's High Desert Mavericks played there from 1991 through their final, championship-winning campaign in 2016. Bruce may have had an up and down relationship with the Mavericks, but he was there at the beginning and he was there until the end.
An aerial shot of Adelanto Stadium, which opened as Mavericks Stadium in 1991.
It was in his capacity as a longtime Mavericks fan that Bruce met Shane Philipps. It was February 2015, and Philipps -- now director of public relations and baseball operations for the Amarillo Sod Poodles -- was just beginning his career in Minor League Baseball. The Mavericks were under new ownership and eager to make a fresh start with the fan base after several dysfunctional seasons. Bruce was the first Mavericks' season-ticket holder Philipps ever contacted. The phone call marked the start of an unlikely friendship, one indicative of the bond that can develop between Minor League front offices and their fans. The sort of bond that caused Philipps, upon learning of Bruce's death, to reach out to this writer. Bruce may have been "just" a fan, but what is baseball without fans? And aren't their stories worth telling?
"Bruce Rogers was the last person I thought I'd grow a deep relationship with," Philipps said. "He was my first season-ticket client, but the first five minutes of the conversation was him yelling at me for things from past Mavericks' seasons. ... 'What's your name?' Shane from the Mavericks? 'All right, Shane, I take it you're new, but I've got a bone to pick with you.' He went into a five-minute rant, on all sorts of things. He basically came in hot -- 2012 through 2014 were kind of the lost years [for the Mavericks].
"I said, 'Look, we've got a new regime here. It's my first week and you're my first call. Can I bring you out to the ballpark? Let's meet and talk face to face.' He came in, and it turned out we both drive [Ford] F-150s. That's how we first related. He was an older gentleman, around 74 or 75, the nicest, most casual guy you could ever meet. Like your grandpa, telling stories. We got to talking, walking on the concourse, with him telling me stories from the [Mavericks'] Bruce Bochy days, how they won a championship that first season  with him as the manager. He ended up buying a mini-plan, 15 games or so, and that's when I found out what he was doing with Sharon. She'd sing the anthem in High Desert, over in Lancaster, down the hill at Rancho Cucamonga and Inland Empire, the Lake Elsinore Storm a couple times. He was adamant on wanting to get her some dates. I said, 'Well, I'd love to hear her sing.' He had a compact disc in his pocket. 'Well, here you go.' ... As the season went on, there ended up being really cool dynamic between us. We got really close, almost like a host family. They got to know me and where I'm from; invite me over, have a beer, eat some dinner."
Bruce Rogers and his wife, Sharon, take in a High Desert Mavericks game.
Bruce and Sharon met in 1979, over the phone, as a result of both working in same industry. He was a long haul driver and she gave out permits. Some three decades later, that casual friendship turned into something else. Bruce had lost Judy, his wife of 46 years, to cancer. He was a widower.
"He asked me on a date. I really had to think about that one because you don't date customers right?" recalled Sharon, a native of Canyon, Texas. "But I agreed, and it didn't take too long before he asked me to marry him. He had been married for 46 years, I'd been single for 30 and I thought there was no way I'm going to get back into that. But he was a charmer."
Sharon had never been a baseball fan before meeting Bruce; her sports of choice were NASCAR and football. The first time she attended a Mavericks game, she quickly lost interest and told Bruce that she was thinking about leaving at halftime.
"He looked at me, said 'It's the bottom of the seventh!'" Sharon said. "He loved to tell that story, kept going back to it. But I started going to games on a regular basis, started experiencing what was going on, and it just clicked. Just clicked all at once. Just, 'Wow, this is a great game!'"
Sharon sings the national anthem before a Colorado Springs Sky Sox game
Bruce and Sharon's Minor League adventures were greatly enhanced by her national anthem pursuits. She had sung, played guitar and performed in variety shows from a young age but never at a sporting event. Bruce set up her first performance, at Las Vegas' Cashman Field. [They owned a condo in the city and eventually moved there full-time.]
"I was so nervous. I usually have a guitar, that's my security blanket. 'With no props, can I do this?'" she recalled. "And so I did the anthem and, of course, he pointed out that I did one thing improper. He taught me how to not to slur the word 'banner.'"
Sharon has gone on to sing at 11 stadiums, multiple times at many of them. She spoke of the sacrifices Bruce made to support her, including the July 4 game in High Desert when he had a medical emergency but refused to leave the ballpark until she sang.
"I wanted to take him to the hospital, but, no," she said. "He sat at the top row, with the paramedics taking his blood pressure. I was so upset about him. They later told me that when I sang the anthem, he stood up and his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. He would not sit down. He was so dehydrated, but it didn't matter to him what he had to sacrifice to make someone else's life happen. He'd do it. He'd sometimes say, 'It wasn't pretty, but I got it done.'
"Because of him, I got to see so much of the country that I'd have never gotten an opportunity to see, to have experiences that I'd never experienced. He was not shy about pointing things out. He saw beauty in everything. The High Desert, the mountains, the forest, the farmland. And he always had a story. He was just a great storyteller."
Bruce Rogers kept mementos of his Mavericks fandom, which he later gave to Shane Philipps.
Philipps' Minor League career has taken him from High Desert to Reno to Colorado Springs to Amarillo. Sharon and Bruce visited him in both Reno and Colorado Springs, with Sharon singing the anthem in both locations.
"If there was one thing that was pending, it was a trip to Amarillo to have Sharon reconnect with her Texas roots and sing before a sold-out Sod Poodles crowd," Philipps said.
Sharon would love to make that trip, joking that she'd be tempted to take out a "Hometown Girl Makes Good" ad in the local newspaper. But her tone quickly turned serious.
"I want this to be about Bruce. He was the reason, he was the driving force, he was my foundation," she said. "He was a great educator. He wanted people to know things, to get out of their shell. He taught me so much in my life."
"It was definitely a true love they shared, one for singing and one for the game of baseball, both supporting one another to enjoy their respective passions," Philipps said of the couple. "Bruce was special, my first connection in baseball as an employee to a client. We shared a passion for baseball in the truest way possible. It wasn't just to sell tickets. It wasn't just to bring in a sale. It was much more than that."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.