Esposito: Rojas to the Rescue: The Rookie Manager with Universal Appeal

Just like the ‘60s Donovan hit single that sang, “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is…” the Mets have now sung a similar refrain, “First there was a manager, then there is no manager, then there is.”

And there he was, Luis Rojas to the rescue, announced on the day before the team held its first ever in-stadium Fan Fest, in a move that genuinely appears to yield universal appeal. In a division chock full of managers with winning resumes, the Mets have entrusted the keys to the castle with an unproven rookie manager, yet you would be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t totally on board with the hire.

“That was a great choice by Brodie,” said second baseman Robinson Cano at Fan Fest. “Knowing Rojas and seeing him manage in the Dominican, being able to talk to him during games last year (as the club’s Quality Control Coach), (and) the knowledge he has, I think he can do a great job for us.”

Quality Control Coach. An odd title on a baseball team, somewhat ambiguous with who-knows-what responsibilities, or perhaps all-encompassing duties, but essentially, Rojas was a go-between last year on the club, and was able to interact with the players on a daily basis with such information as analytics reports or other observations. Any tidbit that might mean the difference between and losing.

So he knows the players, and the players know him, as a good portion of the team came up through the ranks with Rojas already calling the shots at various levels of the minor league system.

Pete Alonso played under Rojas in 2017 and ‘18 with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League.

“The dude never loses his cool,” Alonso said at Fan Fest. “He never hits the panic button. He’s always so prepared. He doesn’t just use his knowledge of the game. He uses his instincts as well. He’s paid his dues.”

Rojas’ knowledge of the game comes from being born with a baseball in his crib. As the son of highly regarded former major league player and manager Felipe Alou and the brother of former All-Star player and former Met Moises Alou, there were few conversations in the Alou household that were ever not about baseball.

As for the surname confusion, Felipe has explained that as a prospect newly signed by the then-New York Giants in 1956, the scouting report and contract used his middle name of Alou, instead of his actual surname, Rojas. How that mistake became further complicated when his brothers, Mateo (known as Matty), and Jesus, also joined him in the majors, is unclear, and why wasn’t Moises known as Rojas is also perhaps a tad perplexing, but no matter. Rojas it is, and he’s now the 23rd manager of the New York Mets, which includes the roughly eight-week stint of Carlos Beltran being named the skipper, despite his never having the opportunity to manage a game for the team.

“I think the stuff that happened with Carlos is unfortunate,” Alonso proclaimed. Beltran and the team “mutually parted ways” mid-January after the scandal of the Houston Astros sign-stealing ways broke and both the Astros and Boston Red Sox fired their managers for having participated one way or another in the scheme.

Steven Matz also was asked about the controversial parting. “It was difficult. (Carlos) is a great baseball mind and a great guy. You know he was excited to lead this team. But unfortunately, it’s behind us now.”

Matz also has experienced Rojas signing his lineup cards, with the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats in 2013. “I have great memories of him as our manager,” Matz stated. “He’s very approachable. He’ll give you an honest opinion, which is what we need. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Rojas, 38, and who will be wearing No. 19 in deference to his birthday, September 1 (in Latin countries, as they do in Europe, they say it as “first of September, not September first), has been in the Mets organization since 2007 – originally brought in by then-GM Omar Minaya, first as a coach in the Mets Dominican Summer League, and he worked his way through the ranks on various levels to get to this point.

He first managed the short season Gulf Coast League Mets in 2011, spent three seasons in Savannah, two seasons helming the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida League, and two seasons running Binghamton before joining the major league staff last year as the aforementioned QCC. And other than falling two games short of a .500 record with those GCL Mets in ‘11 (27-29), only once more did Rojas manage a team to a losing record, and even that year fell just two games under .500 (68-70). Overall, his minor league managerial record is 550-474 (.537).

Promising, certainly promising.

The former outfielder never played in the majors, but he did spend time in the minor league systems of the Baltimore Orioles (2000), Florida Marlins (2001-02), and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2003-05).

Of course, the new skipper, and first Latin manager in the history of the NY Mets, sixth Dominican overall ever to manage a major league club, was grateful for the opportunity and eager to start the process now less than two weeks away in Florida.

“This is a dream come true for me,” exclaimed Rojas at his introductory presser. “It’s something since I got here in the Mets organization, and saw how things were done, I looked forward to it and developed into it. I’m really proud being here as the New York Mets manager, and I feel ready for it.”

“Proud” was how Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen kept referring to the team’s selection of their new field leader, and the confidence he has going forward after putting Rojas through a second set of interviews following Beltran’s departure.

“We got to know him better as we went along in the interview process from October,” BVW explained, “and one of the major separations that we saw then versus now was the leadership role he took on the coaching staff. Carlos was inexperienced as a coach. Luis was one of the staff who really stepped up.

“When we looked at the qualities that he shows, and the conviction that he has in a program that he helped create, and the relationships that he already has with the players were key ingredients.”

When asked if he thought Rojas would suffer through a learning curve, meaning to be allowed to make mistakes along the way, the GM apparently didn’t think there’d be many of concern.

“Every person in any walk of life should be looking to improve and expand their horizons,” BVW said. “I’ve grown in this job over the last year and a half, and Luis is going to rely on, and seek the advice of not only his father and brother, but every other mentor and level of support, and blossom into someone who is very, very special.”

You might wonder if the team’s wealthy investor and future owner, Steve Cohen, was an influence in the hire, but when asked, Van Wagenen was somewhat evasive in his answer, and Cohen might not have been asked for his opinion.

“For us, it was business as usual,” BVW repeated twice when asked about Cohen’s involvement even a second time, “the way we’ve made every business decision, with Jeff, and ultimately with Fred.”

Rojas made just one mistake during his introductory press conference on Thursday. You would think, after 14 years in their employ, he would know how to pronounce the names of his owners, but he gratefully thanked Fred “Wilpin” and Jeff “Wilpin” during the event.

That’s just silly trivia, though, and we’re sure he’ll be corrected shortly. But as for the rest of the presser, you could say he “won the day” and everyone was impressed.

When asked what his managerial style will resemble, Rojas qualified it as any manager would, past or present. “It’s according to the team you have. If you have a team that can run, you run. You have a team that plays a way, you play that way. So it’s according to what you have. We have a really good roster. We have really good starting pitching. We have a really good bullpen, and we can score some runs, so I feel pretty good about it right now.”

Confidence was abundant.

“I will lead this team into success.”

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