"You get a little nervous," Rolen said. "You're thinking about traffic, parking, brushing my teeth, getting a pair of jeans on."
Flanked by his wife, Niki, his 9-year-old daughter, Raine, and 7-year-old son, Finn, Rolen reflected back on happy years as part of the Cardinals' organization, for which he patrolled third base from 2002-07 and helped win a World Series in '06.
"This was a special time for me," Rolen said. "I'm glad to bring my kids back with me. When I was [playing] here, we were at the age where we had kids, this is where they were born, this is where we had them. This right here is a special place, just a special time for my family and everybody. It's nice to be back."
Rolen left St. Louis under tense terms during the winter of 2007-08, when his relationship with then-manager Tony La Russa soured. If this were a divorce, the reasoning would be categorized as "irreconcilable differences." Rolen was traded to Toronto, where he played for a year and a half before landing in Cincinnati, where he finished his career.
That wasn't the plan when Rolen first arrived to St. Louis. He signed an eight-year contract, with a complete no-trade clause, essentially committing the remainder of his career to the Cardinals. In the middle of year six, however, the dynamic changed, and Rolen knew it was time to move on.
"It was best for both parties," he said. "It wasn't a tenable situation at that time. It was a situation where you don't ever want to cause a distraction. You don't want to be that guy."
Regardless of his relationship with La Russa, Rolen has always been popular with the fans, and understandably so. During his five-plus seasons with the Cardinals, he hit 111 homers, drove in 453 runs, played in four All-Star Games, won four Gold Glove Awards and played in three postseasons, including the World Series in 2004 and '06.
He hit .421 in the '06 World Series, logging eight hits in 19 at-bats during the Cardinals' win over the Tigers in five games.
Although he's maintained good relationships within the Cards' organization and still keeps in touch with several staffers, including general manager John Mozeliak, Rolen admitted he was a little surprised when he got the call asking if he'd like to participate in the pregame ceremony before a Redbirds playoff game.
"It caught me off guard a little bit," he said. "There's no doubt about that. But I loved coming here when I was with the Reds. I stayed in contact with a bunch of guys here. There's great friendships you develop. That's not an issue."
In addition to Rolen's ceremonial first pitch, the Cardinals' pregame ceremony featured the U.S. Marines Recruiting Station in St. Louis presenting the colors. The anthem was performed by Tess Boyer, a St. Louis native who recently appeared on the reality show "The Voice."