Scott Rolen has that look of a veteran. The third basemen sports a scruffy beard, receding hairline and an experienced look in his eyes.

That experience is exactly what the Cincinnati Reds have needed since his arrival late last season. On top of that, Rolen has given the Reds an unexpected boost on the offensive end with 11 home runs this season.

Reds’ fans questioned GM Walt Jocketty’s decision to trade talented but inconsistent third baseman Edwin Encarncaion for the 38-year-old Rolen. The Reds were a team built for the future; why would they want a third baseman that was on his way out?

But Jocketty knew what he was doing.

Rolen would provide the Reds with the veteran presence the team lacked.

Joey Votto is a good spokesperson for the team, but is too young to be considered the team’s leader. Brandon Phillips might be the Reds most marquee player, but with his attitude, the second baseman isn’t someone the team can count on.

An experienced veteran presence was needed in the young clubhouse.

Rolen missed some action with a concussion immediately upon arriving from Toronto, but when he was in the lineup, he proved his worth. Cincinnati finished the season 27-13 when Rolen was active.

How much Rolen’s role was in that is debatable, since he only slugged .401 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in his 40 games. I believe Rolen helped the young Reds learn how to play when he was in the lineup, even though he might not have had the biggest effect statistically.

This season, however, Rolen’s impact does correlate with his numbers.

The third baseman has 11 home runs, good enough to tie him for fourth in the National League (as of May 28). Rolen and Joey Votto are currently the only pair on any team in the league with more than 10 home runs.

The old man looks like the power-hitting hitter we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with the Phillies and Cardinals.

Rolen’s energy and enjoyment for the game has been contagious around the clubhouse. At 28-20, Cincinnati came into their May 28 matchup a game up on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds haven’t been eight games over .500 since June 2006.

Players like Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips are starting to catch fire after early inning slumps, and the pitching has the talent to continue to be successful, although I do believe Mike Leake will cool off somewhat after his great rookie success.

What do I think the root of it is?

Some might say it’s the dominance of the pitching, but I believe it’s the veteran presence.

The team has learned to love and enjoy the game, thanks to veterans like Rolen and Orlando Cabrera, two former stars who are twinkling late in their careers. The energy has been contagious so far this season, and signs point to it continuing throughout the summer, although all Reds’ fans know the mid-summer usually means a trip back to mediocrity for Cincinnati.

The move might not help out a few years in the future. Encarnacion has equaled Rolen’s home run total for the Blue Jays this season and might be starting to live up to the potential and expectations people in Cincinnati had for him when he was on the Reds.

Rolen will undeniably retire here in a few years, but his presence now is pushing this team over the hump towards the playoffs, something Encarnacion never would have brought to the table.

Some might have questions Jocketty’s decision to get Rolen last season, but the move has paid dividends so far.

Even if he cools off from his current hot streak, the veteran’s leadership will be a key cog if Cincinnati wants to continue their current success.

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