The transition into high school is a trying time for most teenagers, but in the case of Tanner Rogers, an enormous burden was added. His entry into Columbine High School in the fall of 1999 was preceded by 12 students and one teacher being killed and two dozen others injured in April of that year.
Despite the highly unusual circumstance, Rogers was able to excel as a quarterback and a catcher. He was named Colorado’s “Player of the Year” for both football and baseball in 2002-2003 and was chosen in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Florida Marlins.
After six years with the organization, he decided to return to football and tried out for the starting quarterback position at Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2009. His short stint there was followed by coaching high school football and baseball for eight years.
After marrying the former Maggie Jackson and having two children, Rogers enrolled in RCIA and was baptized at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Highlands Ranch at the Easter vigil in 2019. He loves to read about the faith and has a special appreciation for the Mass. He recently spoke of these things — and more — in this interview.
Do you think attending Columbine High School made you think more about death and the possibility of an afterlife than the average student would?
I was part of the first incoming freshman class after the shooting in April of 1999. The transition to high school can be tough for anyone, but if you add that our family had just moved to Littleton and that I was suddenly part of the most infamous high school in the country, it was a truly surreal thing.
Despite all the initial sadness, confusion and fear, I really had an excellent time in high school. The teachers were very supportive and even before the first day in the fall of 1999, part of the school had been renovated, and extra security precautions had been put into place.
Athletically speaking, things went extremely well. Baseball was my first love, but I also played football and basketball. I was given many accolades for football in my junior and senior years, but baseball was still the main thing. Despite being the first QB in state history to rush for 2,000-plus yards and leading our football team to a 14-0 record and 2002 state championship, I still wanted to do see how far I could go in baseball. That was my dream.
That sounds kind of like Dusty Coleman’s high-school sporting situation. How did you make the decision to go into professional baseball?
If I went to college, I wanted to play both football and baseball, but I thought getting injured would be more likely in that situation than in pro baseball. When I was drafted by the Marlins in the eighth round, which is pretty high, I thought that was the safest and best route, so I decided to sign.
I had told my parents long before signing that they would not have to pay for my college education. That was still the case as I entered pro baseball, because my contract included a stipulation about tuition, books and rent.
But before any college, I tried to make it to the majors as a catcher. I bounced around the Marlins’ minor league system for six years and slowly moved my way up to AA. In 2008 I was invited to spring training and thought it was do-or-die time. In the context of all the team had put into me and I had put into them, it seemed like, if I didn’t make the cut, moving on to something else would be called for. I was let go by the team during the final cuts of spring training and no other teams were interested, so I decided to go back to school and try football.
If you had stayed in baseball, maybe you would have been catching for Marlins’ pitcher Pat Venditte, but how did football go?
Colorado State University-Pueblo has a great program, and I thought I had a good shot at becoming the starting QB, but I realized that my status with the team wasn’t sustainable. The Marlins did pay for tuition, books and what amounted to part of the rent, but the extra that I had to come up with to complete the rent and pay for food meant that I had to work, as well. There just wasn’t enough time to go to classes, be part of the football team — which was like a full-time job — and earn money at a part-time job.
I left the team but majored in communications and then worked for a hotel chain in Colorado. During that time I also helped to coach the Columbine High School football and baseball teams for four years and the Chaparral High School baseball team for four years after that. That gave me a chance to stay around sports and also to teach, even though it wasn’t in a classroom.
I had always found battles, commerce, inventions, art, architecture and the forming of nations fascinating. When I was growing up I wanted to be a history teacher, but then I learned history teachers don’t make much money compared to pro athletes.
St. John Henry Newman said that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. Did the study of history bring you into the Church?
My parents wanted me and my younger brother to make our own decisions on religion. We were not baptized, but did sometimes pray and attend Protestant church services. I didn’t get involved enough to really consider myself a strong Protestant who was opposed to the Catholic Church.
The Church has a rich history demonstrating how it has been the source of so much good for mankind. There’s even a book called How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization that I’m looking into. In the meantime, I still have to read St. Augustine’s Confessions, which my father- and mother-in-law gave me as a present when I came into the Church last year.
How did that come about?
I would attend Sunday Mass with my wife, Maggie, and our kids, Henry and Riley, and then started going to Mass during the week as often as possible. Even though my wife was strongly Catholic and wanted us to be married in the Church and raise our kids Catholic, she never pressured me to convert. She did want me to be Catholic, but she also knew that it was my decision.
Even though I was basically onboard with Catholicism before I officially entered the Church, it is all the better to be living out what I had agreed to teach my kids. We’re all influenced by the actions of others, but kids are very impressionable. It wouldn’t make sense to them if Dad didn’t do everything they were being taught to do.
It took me a while, but I signed up for RCIA at St. Mark in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in 2018, which included a marriage class taught by former MLS player Taylor Kemp and his wife, Brittany. Among the valuable things the Church has to say about marriage is the very reasonable yet unpopular nature of married couples being open to conceiving new life. The family is an image of the Trinity, which is always completely sharing love, holding nothing back. Fertility is a blessing rather than something to fear or diminish.
The sharing of natural life is in anticipation of sharing supernatural life. The second aspect happened to me last year, when I was baptized. The life of the Trinity was poured into my soul at the Easter vigil, and, afterward, I didn’t know what took me so long to accept such an incomparable gift.
Another couple that has been very helpful to me is Robert and Karol Seydel. Robert is assistant director of Catholic cemeteries in our area and a Knight of Columbus. He and his wife, Karol, have been a major part of my welcome into the Church as mentors and friends. Aside from my own family — my mother-in-law, Alice Jackson, was even my RCIA sponsor — Robert and Karol have helped me the most with my transition into being a practicing Catholic.
Are the Seydels related to Carol Seydel of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, which helped to translate the book (and the exhibit) by Venerable Carlo Acutis called The Eucharistic Miracles of the World into English?
They’re not related, but that organization sounds like exactly the type of thing I’d be interested in. I love how Jesus is sacramentally present under the appearance of bread and wine. That itself is a miracle, but learning about other miracles resulting from it should be of interest to any Catholic.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.
The Catholic Church has the richest history, treasury of prayer, sacramental life and biblical background you can find. This is obviously a blessing, but it can be overwhelming for a new member of the Church. There are so many things to learn and so many groups to join that it’s easy to get pulled in many directions and not really get a solid hold on any particular teaching, devotion or work of charity.
Since the Mass is the center of our religion, I decided to focus primarily on that. It’s the same sacrifice of Calvary, where Jesus died so that we would live. It’s not, as some say, that we’re crucifying Jesus again; it’s that the graces of his one sacrifice are being made present again. Every time we go to Mass, heaven is opened up anew.
As good as simply recalling Calvary is, the Mass goes further and brings us to Calvary. It’s not a remembrance only in the sense of recollection, but in the sense of proclamation and participation in the one heavenly liturgy. The Mass is such an outstanding, undeserved, loving gift that it makes me tear up at times.
I go to be a part of the Mass as often as possible and also try to learn about what exactly happens there. I enjoyed reading 7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn and plan on reading The Incredible Catholic Mass by Venerable Martin von Cochem and the newest edition of Holy Communion by Bishop [Juan Rodolfo] Laise.
Two other books that have helped, but which are not directly about the Mass, are Parenting on Purpose! by Jason Free and another one by Vinny Flynn called 7 Secrets to Confession.
What have you learned about confession?
Confession is a literal Godsend, but it can be misunderstood as the one-stop place to have all your sins forgiven and then maybe just live life as done before. However, our firm purpose of amendment, combined with the grace of confession, help us to overcome temptations and live better lives.
It’s also true that any mortal sins need to be confessed sacramentally, but venial sins can be forgiven by prayers, such as the Our Father and the penitential rite of the Mass; and good works, such as donating food to the poor and donating good Catholic books to a parish library. To put it in other words, God is ready to forgive us all the time, and confession is the major way — after baptism — of doing that, but not the only way.
Being a retired, previously unbaptized athlete in his 30s whose wife encouraged him to become Catholic but also left the decision up to him reminds me of NHL All-Star Game MVP John Scott.
It’s great to know there are top Catholic athletes out there. I know of top athletes, but couldn’t really identify too many as being Catholic, so any stories about them are appreciated. I would love to meet John if he ever comes to Colorado or if we go up to Michigan.
Have you been able to combine your new faith and sports?
The two high schools I coached at weren’t Catholic, and I wasn’t a practicing Catholic during those years, but the last two years I’ve been coaching my son’s T-ball team. That’s not a Catholic team per se either, but I at least hope that I’m providing a good example to the kids.
Maybe one day I can work with Taylor in a sports-faith enterprise or maybe with Catholic Athletes for Christ, but for now I’m a project manager at Oldcastle Infrastructure, which provides precast concrete and other building products.
I’ve only been at Oldcastle since February, so nothing ecclesiastical has happened yet, but I’d certainly be open to that. It would be a lot of fun to be part of building a church. People talk about “building up the Church” in a spiritual sense, but it would be great in the physical sense, too.
The Church uses material means all the time to help convey grace. That’s really what life here is all about. We’re not angels; we have bodies and use material things. The key is to use them rightly and realize they are not ends but means to greater glory. It took me a long time to see that, but I’m so happy now that I do.
To come back to the first question, I probably didn’t think about death too much more than the average high-school student, but recently I have been thinking about it more. Some friends of mine have died unexpectedly, so that wakes you up more than anything. It makes it so obvious that the next life awaits us, whether we’re ready or not, but I have a lot more hope of being ready now than ever before.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.
His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.