NEW YORK (AP) – Luis Rojas never expected to be the man behind the microphone.
Eleven days earlier, he was preparing for his second spring training as the Mets’ relatively anonymous quality control coach. Now he was a major league manager, just like his dad, tasked with lifting New York’s perennial No. 2 team to its first World Series title since 1986.
“I will lead this team into success,” he promised.
Carlos Beltrán’s news conference at Citi Field on Nov. 4 was a coronation, held in the spacious Foxwoods Club high above the diamond. Beltrán’s tenure lasted just 84 days, cut short by his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Rojas’ introduction in the more Spartan news conference room near the clubhouse felt like the hastily arranged handover it was.
Rojas’ mother, Lucie, sat in the front row.
“Thank you for raising us right, for teaching us what was right and wrong since early,” he told her, repeating his words in Spanish.
Then he turned his attention to Felipe Alou, his 84-year-old father, who was not in attendance. Dad was a three-time All-Star who managed Montreal for 10 seasons and San Francisco for four. Rojas grew up in big league clubhouses.
“I want to thank my father, who taught me the game of baseball, who taught me the game of baseball and life and helped me balance step throughout this journey,” Rojas said. “He was my example to follow the whole time, still will be. … My father’s been my college, my university of baseball.”
Uncle Matty was a two-time All-Star and Uncle Jesus played in the big leagues for 15 seasons. Rojas also praised his brother, six-time All-Star Moises Alou, who was not on hand.
“You were very impactful in my career,” he said. “Our discussions led to great ideas.”
Lucie said baseball always has been 100% of the family discussion.
“I’m full of joy right now,” she said through a translator.
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen introduced Rojas by framing the huge expectations of a team led by two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and slugger Pete Alonso.
“We have a collection of major league players that are talented and built to win right now,” Van Wagenen said.
Rojas put on his new uniform No. 19 – dad wore 17 with the Expos and Moises 18. Sequence was not the decisive factor.
“It’s my birthday,” he said, referring to the international style of 1/9 for Sept. 1 rather than the American convention of 9/1.
He was born Luis Rojas Alou, and he went by Alou – the surname of his paternal grandmother – when he started in Baltimore in 2000. At some point while he was with Florida (2001-02) or Montreal/Washington (2003-05), he was asked to change his name to Rojas as part of Major League Baseball’s push to conform names with birth certificates.
During his time with the Expos/Nationals, he got to know Ismael Cruz, the director of international scouting and development. Cruz asked him to manage in the Dominican Summer League in 2006.
“He came from the bottom up, the lowest player development position. I remember he used to help me out with the workouts, working out kids before they signed,” said Cruz, now the Los Angeles Dodgers’ vice president of international scouting. “Well-educated kid, came from a good family. One of those kids that you give a chance.”
After Expos general manager Omar Minaya left for the same job with the Mets, Cruz followed as New York’s international scouting director starting in 2006. He hired Rojas to coach for the Dominican Summer League Mets for 2007.
Adam Wogan, who also left Washington and became the Mets’ director of minor league operations in 2006, started Rojas’ advancement through the minors: coaching in the Gulf Coast League in 2008 and ’09 and at Class A Savannah in 2010. Promoted to manager, Rojas led the Gulf Coast Mets in 2011, Savannah from 2012-14, Class A St. Lucie from 2015-16 and Double-A Binghamton from 2017-18 before joining the major league coaching staff last season.
Rojas also managed in the Dominican Winter League in 2015-2016 and led his native Dominican Republic in Olympic qualifying last November.
“This guy comes from one of the greatest baseball families in the world,” said Wogan, now a professional scout for the Chicago Cubs. “At times that entry level coaching job is a grind and a challenge. And he was perfect for it in so many ways. Whatever was asked of him, he dominated it. He did a great job of working with players in any capacity and being a sounding board for them, but also being a very good instructor.”
Minaya, now special assistant to Van Wagenen, recalled Rojas “just had his quiet presence about him.”
“My first impression of him was a guy that had potential for growth in whatever he decided to do,” Minaya said. “There was knowledge there – and the fact that he had history, he came from a family of baseball royalty.”
Now 38, Rojas interviewed for Mets manager last October after Mickey Callaway was fired. Van Wagenen said Rojas “stepped up” in helping hire coaches for Beltrán, who has never managed at any level.
“The equity that he built, not only with the players but the organization and the coaches was significant in terms of ultimately choosing him,” Van Wagenen said. “The players understand his voice. They know when he says something that it has purpose. He doesn’t waste a whole lot of words.”
Notes: Van Wagenen sidestepped questions on whether incoming owner Steve Cohen was involved in the process.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports