For 5 1/2 years, Rolen was a core player here, at the new Busch Stadium as well as the one that preceded it. He played on two pennant-winners, two 100-win teams, four playoff teams and a World Series champion. And then, due to repeated and ongoing disputes with manager Tony La Russa, he was traded to Toronto.
Now, after a season and a half north of the border, Rolen is back in the National League Central, back in the Midwest -- and back as a visitor in St. Louis for the first time since the deal. He's delighted to be in Cincinnati ... but he does sometimes wonder what-if, even now.
"The regret is that it ended here," he said on Monday afternoon. "But things do happen and circumstances do change. That [the trade] is what needed to happen. That's the way it played out. That is what happened. I would love to say that I don't even think about the past, that you don't long for that from time to time. But I'm not that strong of an individual. I do. But at the same time, I know that that's what needed to happen.
"No disrespect to any other situation I'm in, but I signed an eight-year contract to play eight years. That's what it was. And we came across some roadblocks that we couldn't get over -- some obstacles that we couldn't get out of the way of. There was a time when Tony and I mutually decided that we weren't going to be able to wear the same uniform, and that's the way it was."
Sixteen months ago, in his first spring as an ex-Cardinal, Rolen took a harder stance. He chose his words carefully, but it was clear he still seethed over the circumstances of his departure. Now with another new home that's much closer to his actual home in southern Indiana, his tone has changed somewhat.
"I guess you soften," Rolen said, "but things happen and you don't rewrite those things. It is what it is. That's the way it went down. You either accept the way it went down, accept changes for the better, or you harbor negative feelings and have a tough time laying your head down at night. It's your choice. Would I change anything? If I could change anything, I would change everything that led up to not being able to finish out my contract here."
The immediate disappointment for Rolen, though, is that he's unable to play for his current team. He took a pitch in the head from ex-teammate Jason Marquis on Aug. 2, and he's played in only two games since. He's still feeling effects of the concussion he suffered that day. The Reds aren't in any hurry to place him on the disabled list, due to the uncertain nature of the injury, but he's not available at the moment.
"We'll just wait it out and see," said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, who acquired Rolen for the Cardinals from the Phillies in 2002, and then locked him up with an eight-year deal. "We don't want to act prematurely on that just in case he's OK. With this type of head injury, it's too hard to predict what's going to happen. We'll let it go for now. I hate to put him on the DL and he's out for two weeks and find out he's OK by the end of the week."
Despite Rolen's disputes with La Russa, Jocketty always remained a fan of the seven-time Gold Glove Award winner. As the relationship between player and manager deteriorated, it was a strange situation for Jocketty, who has a close friendship with La Russa that dates back well over a decade.
Jocketty declines to discuss those days now. His actions, however, speak loudly. He was willing and even eager to pull the trigger on a deal with Toronto, a clear sign of his regard for Rolen. La Russa likewise danced around the topic of his falling out with Rolen, preferring not to revisit the ugly situation.
"There's no reason to answer that question," La Russa said when asked if he had any regrets. "What I really regret is that he's hurt right now. I don't like that at all and I wish him health -- and quickly."
Still, like Rolen, La Russa's tone is a bit softer than it was 17 months ago.
"He not only was on the team, but he was a part of some of the better memories we've had here in this decade," La Russa acknowledges.
Now Rolen is trying to make new memories in Cincinnati. And he's open to signing another long-term deal, if the club is willing.
"I've played three games and [got hurt], so I don't know what their hope is," he said. "That's certainly entered my mind. But at the same time, I have a year and two months left on my contract. I don't know what's after that. I'll take it a day at a time, try to get back on the ... field again."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.