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Real Talk: Rojas Becomes New York Mets Manager

Gemini Keez/Keez Cam

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEW YORK — Within seconds of initially donning his New York Mets cap and jersey as the team’s manager, Luis Rojas stood at the podium to let every guest in the New York Mets press room know that his lifelong dream is now real life.

Rojas soon turned and locked his eyes to both ownership and then the front office, telling them that his lofty expectations of the New York Mets going forward were real.

He also directed words to, and heaped praised on, his family, a Major League Baseball dynasty in terms of families to make their names in the big leagues.

Everything with Luis Rojas was nothing short of genuine. Winning the press conference the way he did provided almost just as much optimism for the upcoming season as any of his talented young players at his disposal.

Rojas, 38, was announced as the 23rd manager of the New York Mets franchise on Friday afternoon, ending a week-long search — the second search for a manager for the New York Mets this offseason — after the franchise parted ways with Carlos Beltran, who was named manager of the Mets in November before he was implicated in Major League Baseball’s investigation into the sign-stealing imbroglio involving the Houston Astros.

Rojas’ palpable enthusiasm and candor reached out to and coursed through the body of every Mets fan and cynic during the press conference, his confidence in lifting the team back to championship glory unwavering.

“I will lead this team into success,” Rojas said while standing on the dais and looking right at Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, stationed just to Rojas’ right. “I will lead this team into success.”

Rojas, who has been a manager in the Mets’ farm system in both Class A and AA, spent last season as the team’s quality control coach, and his attention to detail and organization led him to be one of the leading candidates to become the team’s next manager after it fired Mickey Callaway after two seasons. The Mets ended up deciding on Beltran, a former Met All-Star player, to lead the team and announced his hiring in November.

But before Beltran ever got to manage the Mets in a competitive game, MLB’s investigation into sign stealing put the Mets in a bind, as Beltran, who was a player on the Houston Astros during their 2017 World Series championship run, was named in the investigation’s findings as playing a role in the scandal. Houston subsequently fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and after the Red Sox parted ways with Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 before leading the Red Sox to a championship as manager in 2018, Beltran’s days appeared numbered.

The Mets contacted Rojas again soon after Beltran’s ouster on Jan. 16, and Van Wagenen, already impressed with Rojas from the first round of interviews, knew that he was not going to pass him up a second time.

“This guy’s real. I think you guys can probably hear his tone today. You feel it,” Van Wagenen said. “Our players are familiar with it. They know he has substance…When someone has the poise that Luis Rojas commands a room, it can create great things.”

Rojas’ time as a minor league manager with the parent club allowed him to personally instruct a number of players that currently make up the nucleus of the projected Mets opening day roster for this coming season, including players such as Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeill, Amed Rosario, Steven Matz, Yoenis Céspedes, and more.

“It’s great that I know them, but it’s even better that they know me back,” Rojas said. “It’s something that’s going to help us click even quicker with the ideas and strategies.”

Fielding questions in both English and Spanish, Rojas was effusive in his praise for the family who raised him, the prestigious Alou family. The patriarch, Felipe, was a three-time All-Star who later became manager of the Montréal Expos and developed the talent of Hall of Famers such as Pedro Martinez and Larry Walker. Luis’ uncles, Jesus and Matty, also had lengthy Major League careers and his brother, Moises, became a Major League All-Star in the 1990s.

“I want to thank my father (Felipe), who taught me the game of baseball,” Rojas said. “Who taught me the game of baseball, and life. And helped me balance it throughout this journey. He was my example to follow the whole time. Still will be. All the teaching, all the lessons I got from him has helped me throughout this journey.”

The awkward nature of Rojas’ hiring leaves just over two weeks between being named manager and meeting with his team in Port St. Lucie to break ground for spring training. However, Rojas is confident that the familiarity between he and the current makeup of the roster and coaching staff, as well as the talent and potential the team showed in the second half last season, will provide a fairly seamless transition.

“We have a really good roster. We have really good starting pitching. We have a really good bullpen and we can score some runs,” Rojas said. “I feel pretty good about it right now.”

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