Thursday, May 19, 2022

Rojas drawn back to the diamond

Tyler Rojas still remembers shagging tennis balls for his older sister, Matti, when he was just 7 years old.

The California native would routinely bring his baseball glove to his sister’s tennis practice for just that purpose, and while that may seem unorthodox for most youngsters, it was not for Tyler.

The Liberty Christian junior is the son of former Los Angeles Angels play-by-play announcer and minor league player Victor Rojas and grandson of former Kansas City Royal second baseman and 5-time major league all-star Cookie Rojas.

With such a strong pedigree in the sport of baseball, glory on the diamond would appear to be a foregone conclusion.

But when Rojas’ family moved from California to Texas, baseball was not where he made his first impression.

“All of my new friends played tennis, and I thought to myself, ‘why not give it a shot?’” Rojas said. “I started to fall in love with the sport and it was then that I started to pursue it full time.”

Rojas, 16, grew quite comfortable on the court and ascended to the No. 2 player position on the varsity roster.

“I worked my tail off as a freshman,” Rojas said.

The best part about it for Rojas was that, even though it “wasn’t an easy decision” to take a pass on baseball, his parents and grandfather backed him all the way.

“My dad has always told us when he was growing up that my grandfather would tell his sons to play as many sports as possible and that he was never pushed towards baseball,” Rojas said. “My grandfather loved the fact I was trying another sport. My dad played junior tennis when he was young and would go to the tennis courts and hit with me every day.

“He even started to enjoy it and played a few tournaments himself. I’m lucky to have parents who have been very supportive.”

The Liberty Christian junior, who has an affinity for the outdoors and loves to go fishing and play video games with his friends in his spare time, now seemed to be destined for a great tennis career.

But then something interesting happened.

Tyler’s history teacher, Chris Lugo, just so happens to be a junior varsity baseball coach as well, and one day, Rojas received an interesting proposal.

It was October of 2020, and Lugo had tried and failed to convince Rojas to come out for baseball, even though Rojas admits he genuinely considered it, but could not pull the trigger.

Then Lugo sweetened the pot.

“The Dodgers and Rays were in the World Series, and we made a silly bet,” Rojas said. “If the Dodgers won the World Series, I would play baseball for him. If the Rays won, he would play me in a tennis match wearing a Rays jersey. He is a huge Dodgers fan. The Dodgers ended up winning, and staying true to my word, I switched over to baseball.”

Varsity baseball coach Billy Jordan said that “we immediately saw a baseball player,” in Rojas, and the coaching staff began cultivating his natural ability.

“There are some guys that just have baseball instincts and look and move like a baseball player,” Jordan said. “And that was Tyler…it didn’t take long at all for us to see that he was a special player. It just took him a little time to get back into baseball mode.”

For Rojas, it took a little more than that.

The Liberty Christian teen said that when he went to baseball practice for the first time, he did not really know anyone except the coach and soon realized that he was going to have to work hard to earn a spot on the team.

“I think the biggest challenge was trusting in myself,” Rojas said. “I was a small, 15 year-old sophomore…who hadn’t played baseball seriously in a number of years. I think the biggest thing that my dad kept reminding me of was the fact that all of my teammates had been doing this consistently for a long time and that I wouldn’t just be able to walk in and have things click.

“I know I was behind everyone…playing the game, in age and in size, but it has all worked out, and it has actually made me work even harder to catch up.”

And Rojas did catch up.

Within a few months, he was called up to the varsity squad and was starting at second base for the Warriors.

Jordan said that Victor, who is the current President and GM of the Frisco RoughRiders, and Cookie Rojas have come to practices and games, but they prefer to be supportive spectators rather than motivational speakers.

“Cookie has come to watch a couple games and practice,” Jordan said. “I’ve personally talked with him for a few minutes, but he hasn’t addressed the team. Victor obviously as a dad is at every game and does a great job of just being a dad. There have been a few conversations between Victor and I, just talking baseball, but he also hasn’t addressed the team. I believe he wants to just wear his dad hat during these times and I respect that.”

Rojas said that one of the things he loves the most is that he has never been pressured to excel by his father or grandfather in the sport they all share.

“They are by my side through everything I do,” Rojas said. “They are always so supportive and constantly pouring their knowledge of the game into me. If I feel any pressure at times it’s because I put it on myself. I want to succeed for myself, but also for everyone around me.”

Rojas said that he has “not picked up a tennis racket since my decision to pursue baseball,” but added that the sport is still near and dear to his heart.

“I still love the game of tennis and believe more people should give it a shot,” Rojas said. “Tennis has most definitely helped me with my footwork, hand eye coordination, and mental toughness.”

All of which are important qualities that likely helped to earn him a scholarship offer from National Park College in Arkansas.

True to form, Rojas is humble in his reasoning for choosing the community college.

“I had no expectations when I was invited to workout for them in Hot Springs,” Rojas said. “It was a cold day, but their new turf field was beautiful. The number one main selling point was their head coach, Rich Thompson. From the second I shook his hand and introduced myself, he welcomed me as if I was his son.

“The atmosphere and culture that coach Thompson is building in Hot Springs is very unique and something I wanted to be a part of. I know that at this stage of my baseball life, I still have some growing to do, and I feel that going the junior college path is what is best for me today.”

Rojas’ Favorites

Favorite Athlete: Mike Trout

Favorite Sports Team: Angels and Chiefs

Favorite Food: Teriyaki chicken

Favorite Movie: McFarland USA

Book you are currently reading or last book you read: The Great Gatsby

Favorite Musical Group or Performer: The Weeknd

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