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    Mudville: November 29, 2021 11:58 am PDT
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    Big Fly! Big Change!

    Life doesn’t wait.

    You move when the opportunity is right and a change is needed.

    Victor Rojas, 53, did exactly that just about a year ago. The former Angels announcer has done just about everything in the game, and he gave up his longstanding broadcast gig to become president and general manager of the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA team of the Texas Rangers. Along the way, he is also chasing the Big Fly! in the baseball apparel business.

    As a result, Rojas, son of 16-year major league infielder Cookie Rojas, is having the time of his life and is The Story this week.

    “It was twofold,’’ Rojas told BallNine of the change in his baseball course. He first started as a major league broadcaster with the Diamondbacks in 2003, then went to the Rangers. He also was the first personality to appear on camera for the new MLB Network in 2009. He joined the Angels in 2010.

    “If you know what you want, go get it,’’ Rojas said. “It was the transition from the broadcast booth to back being in a front office, getting up to speed on all the nuances (of a minor league franchise), and getting ramped up for May 4th Opening Day, it was like hair on fire. I can’t believe the season went by as fast as it did and was as successful as it was, I’m thankful for the opportunity. It was fun doing it, and it’s nice now to be able to have six months to be able to plan it and do other wonderful things we wanted to do that we just couldn’t do last year.’’

    Victor Rojas at Angel Stadium, where he spent 10 years as the play-by-play voice of the Halos.

    “In my core I am still a huge puritan of the game. I’ve adapted. I’m okay with bat flips. But deep down in my heart, I like the purity of the game and how it used to be played.’’

    What’s a night like at your ballpark?

    “I saw it back when I was with the Rangers, when it was first built,’’ Rojas said. “But when I got there in January and we were walking around, our ballpark is unique from an architectural standpoint. It’s as if the Hamptons and Churchill Downs had a baby and out came Riders Field. It’s completely unique with the little peaks and the like, certainly no other ballpark like it. A typical night, from a game-day perspective, we are there are 9 am and gates open at 5:30, just kind of getting the ballpark ready and that is the beauty of what I’m doing. It’s not baseball per se, it’s operational and running a building and being responsible for a staff of 30 now, plus game-day staff, plus game presentation, plus tickets. I like being busy to begin with, so this fits my wheelhouse perfectly.’’

    The ballpark features a Lazy River as well, so this is really different.

    “It’s a team atmosphere,’’ Rojas said of working for the RoughRiders. “We are all doing stuff. I’m not above pulling tarp, doing all the stuff that needs to be done, selling tickets and the like. That’s what I kind of like about it, it is more of a pure sense of baseball and Americana, Norman Rockwell-ish.’’

    Victor Rojas is one of those cool, calm, collected guys you sometimes run across, people who never seem to sweat. He plows forward and gets the job done, no matter the job.

    Why the change at this point in his life?

    “I knew I wanted more,’’ he said of going from broadcasting to this much different baseball life. “I have a long connection with the Angels. Dad was there 10 years, ’82 to ’92. I played minor league ball in their organization so there was a deep connection. In 2020 when the team was playing poorly, I was taking it to heart because I wanted the team to succeed.

    “That’s why I put in for the GM job and I’m glad I had an interview,’’ Rojas explained. “That exercise alone kind of made me realize, ‘You know, I think I do want more out of life. I think I am ready to get challenged and be out of my comfort zone again’ … Lo and behold, Chuck Greenberg texted me in November there might be an opening. We had a number of conversations in December and in early January this is when it happened.’’

    Greenberg is the highly respected General Partner and CEO of the RoughRiders and two other minor league teams and is a former owner of the Texas Rangers.

    A lot of success traits Victor learned from his dad, Cookie, who escaped Cuba and started playing in the major leagues for the Reds in 1962. The 5’10”, 160-pound Rojas went on to spend seven years with the Phillies and after a brief stop in St. Louis, had a whole new eight-year career with the Royals from 1970-77. He was both an AL and NL All-Star and played all nine positions. He also managed the Angels in 1988. He was a coach on the 2000 Mets that went to the World Series and has been a successful coach, broadcaster and scout, in many ways a quiet baseball legend.

    Cookie Rojas, 82, lives in Naples, Florida.

    “He’s doing well,’’ Victor said. “He just had his knee replaced, the knee I told him to get replaced like 10 years ago he finally got it done. The guy is my hero. Mom and Dad, coming from Cuba, not knowing the language and leaving family behind to chase a dream and the dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. How could I not gravitate towards that and have that passion for it? In my core I am still a huge puritan of the game. I’ve adapted. I’m okay with bat flips. But deep down in my heart, I like the purity of the game and how it used to be played.’’

    Cookie Rojas seen here in 1988 while managing the Angels, givies an earful to Umpire Drew Coble #37 at The Big A in Anaheim, California.

    Victor Rojas is far from alone. Baseball cannot forget those baseball people at the core of the game, that’s for sure.

    Rojas had a front row seat as a broadcaster with the Angels all those years with the one and only Mike Trout. What was that like?

    “Trout, (Shohei) Ohtani, (Albert) Pujols, (Anthony) Rendon for a season. There have been some guys who have come through,’’ Rojas said. “The competitiveness of Jered Weaver. I’ve been very fortunate. Trout is just out of this world, he is not real, and he is not human, and Shohei, what he is capable of doing… It’s hard enough to come over from Japan on the one-dimensional level and now this guy is trying to do two things at the highest level with all the weight of his country on his shoulders, he easily put that to bed his first year and now he is off and running. He is amazing, man. It was hard to leave, it was a tough decision.’’

    With the Mets hiring Billy Eppler Friday, Rojas also got to see the entire Eppler era with the Angels and offers this assessment.

    “I think Billy is a great guy,’’ Rojas offered. “I don’t know the true inner workings of what happened in Southern California, I just know there were a lot of things that didn’t work out well in his favor and ultimately it cost him his job. But I think because he is a good guy and he genuinely loves the game and wants to do right by the game, just like anything else, I have failed a number of times in my life and I think that is where I have gotten to a really good sweet spot because of those failures – I learned from them. I’m assuming Billy is a pretty smart dude, so he is going to take the experience in Southern California, take the good and the bad and kind of put it all back in the blender and be like, ‘Okay, now I’m a little bit wiser, I’m a little bit older.’ Make some better decisions or trust his gut a little more, I don’t know whatever the case may be, I’m assuming he will be given the opportunity of what he thinks is best for the Mets organization.’’

    Angels broadcast booth partners from 2010-2020 Rojas (left) and Mark Gubicza.

    When Eppler was fired, Rojas decided to put his hat in the ring for the Angels GM job. He didn’t get the job, but he loved the experience. That pushed him to take on this new challenge with the Frisco RoughRiders.

    Always one of the sharpest dressers in the game, Rojas also owns a baseball apparel company called Big Fly Gear, where tradition, history and the home run take center stage. His signature home run call is “Big Fly!” as in “Big Fly Ohtani-San.’’ He also called the 600th Big Fly! for both Sammy Sosa and Pujols.

    “It’s going well,’’ he said of the business. “This coming February it will be three years and the idea, obviously Big Fly being my home run call, we wanted to do something that was home run related, so we came up with this concept of a person, place and moment in history and revolving around the home run and creating a unique piece of art that tells the story. With art we are just going to tell stories and that’s what we have done, and we have a pretty loyal following. The fourth quarter last year was unbelievable because I decided let’s do a Dodgers World Series shirt for the first time and it went off, four printings, just kept selling out. We are just going to continue to create more stories.

    “I’ve done a lot of shopping in my life and there are some (baseball-themed) companies that do something, but if you go to a team store it’s all the same stuff,’’ Rojas explained. “It’s all block lettering, it’s ‘Home of …’ There is nothing unique about it and that’s why we wanted to do something that was unique. You had to kind of maybe solve it a little bit … ‘Ahh Boston magic. Oh, I see the 2 and 7 on the batting gloves, that’s got to be Fisk.’

    “The whole idea is that the graphic attracts you,’’ Rojas said. “The story attracts you and then when you wear it somebody says something about your shirt and now you are sharing a piece of baseball history, you’re sharing that story with somebody else. Just kind of keep that community going.’’

    Baseball at its core is community.

    That’s a full plate but Rojas, who I have known since his days with the Newark Bears is a man gifted with energy.

    “Jack of all trades, master of none,’’ Rojas said with his laugh of his varied career that also includes being a bullpen catcher.

    The Rojas family at Globe Life Field prior to Game 1 of the 2020 World Series.

    Speaking of those Atlantic League Newark Bears, he put together a most interesting Independent League team in 2001, signing the Canseco Brothers, a story in itself. It was only fitting that when Rojas handed out contracts to Jose and Ozzie, “They signed each other’s contract by mistake,’’ Rojas said. “They didn’t read the name on the contract. “Just dealing with Jose was enough of a story,’’ Rojas added with a laugh. “He’s a different bird. I’ve known him a long time because my brother played minor league ball with him back in Idaho Falls in the early ‘80s and we have the Cuban connection. In Newark, he posted up for us, though.’’

    Also signed were MLB veterans Jim Leyritz, Jack Armstrong, Jamie Navarro, Pete Incaviglia, Lance Johnson and Hensley Meulens.

    Rojas was to do the color on the Bears broadcast but the play-by-play guy quit before the first game. “I became the play-by-play guy, too,’’ he said of having to wear another baseball cap that helped lead to his MLB broadcasting career.

    “We lost in the playoffs in the finals and the next year I kept only two players, centerfielder Joe Mathis and catcher Peto Ramirez and built a completely different team and ended up winning it all that year,’’ Rojas said.

    Now he is back in the team atmosphere of the game with the RoughRiders. Victor and his wife Kim live right in Frisco. “Being able to go home for lunch with my family is so special,’’ Rojas said. “Being able to watch my son Tyler play baseball in the summertime. He is a junior, a middle infielder.’’

    There are two daughters, Brianna, who is married and a mother and lives in Southern California and Mattingly, who is in college, a freshman at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Yes, she is named after Don Mattingly, and also goes by the name Maddie. Mattingly is studying broadcasting.

    Victor did not broadcast at any time for the RoughRiders this year. “Didn’t miss it,’’ he said. “I recorded some commercials before the season. Our PA guy had to leave for two games for an emergency and I was the public address announcer for two games.’’

    At every level, Victor Rojas’ love of the game shines through.

    45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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