Journey from Goodyear to the Diamondbacks
You’ll forgive Josh Rojas if he finds it difficult to collect his thoughts. The last three months have been a whirlwind, to say the least.
“Tons of great memories. Probably too many to think of just one,” said Rojas, a rookie for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Millenniun High School alum. “But I definitely know there are a lot of great memories growing up there.”
In late July, Rojas was part of a blockbuster Major League Baseball trade that saw him return home to the Valley. Less than two weeks later, he would make his MLB debut for the team he cheered for growing up.
Life for Rojas has changed as rapidly as Goodyear has. When he came home, he said he hardly recognized the city.
“The last two years, since I got drafted in ’17, every time I come home, a lot has changed,” he said. “There’s always a lot more going up. We have that new freeway going in now. It’s growing pretty fast, pretty rapidly.”
REPPING THE WEST SIDE
With the East Valley getting the majority of the attention in the high-school scene, Rojas took pride in making the media pay attention to the West.
“When it comes to high-school sports, East Valley usually runs it," he said. "But I think any time you get any talent from the west side, we like to rep it, whoever that might be. I know in high school, when the West Valley made the tournament and went pretty far in the tournament, it was always big news, just because it was surprising for a West Valley school to get that far.”
Rojas and the Tigers made a pair of deep state tournament runs, in 2011 and 2013.
“Definitely going deep into the tournament in my sophomore year was really fun, and then making a tournament run again in my senior year. Those were definitely the best two years of baseball,” he said.
Rojas said Mike Jacobs, his baseball coach at Millennium, played an important role as he prepared to play at the collegiate and professional levels.
“He helped us all mature as a bunch of high schoolers playing high-school baseball and getting our first taste of competitiveness, our first taste of playoffs and how to go through that,” he said.
"THE NEW KID IN SCHOOL"
Rojas also played football and soccer at Millennium, but said baseball was always his true passion.
“I didn’t eat, breathe, sleep football like I did baseball, so I think there was only one easy choice there, and it was to go for baseball,” he said.
After high school, Rojas went on to play baseball at Paradise Valley Community College and the University of Hawaii, and he was selected by the Houston Astros in the 2017 MLB Draft. He played in the minor leagues within the Astros organization for two-plus years and was rated as one of the team’s top prospects.
But Rojas received life-altering news on July 31. He had been traded to his hometown team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, as part of a deal that sent former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to Houston.
“I had no idea. I wasn’t expecting it at all, so when I got traded, I was really surprised,” he said. “There were rumors in the locker room, just kind of jokes floating around on who’s getting traded, who might go – just kind of trying to trick people into checking their phones and stuff like that. Even any rumors you hear, you kind of not take seriously because you hear them all the time, so you become numb to them.”
Rojas grew up a D-backs fan and attended a number of games as a kid. He’s old enough to remember cheering on the D-backs during the 2001 World Series, and said he watched the commemorative DVD over and over.
And while Rojas was excited to go home, he said the news of his trade was bittersweet.
“It was definitely mixed emotions. You’re excited to go play for your hometown organization, the organization I grew up watching,” he said. “But then you have the emotions of having to leave all your teammates you played with the last couple years, all the coaches that you’re comfortable with, the training staff. You’ve got to leave all those people and you’ve got to kind of start over as the new kid in school.”
GETTING THE CALL-UP
Less than two weeks after being traded, Rojas was called up to the big leagues for the first time. He made an instant impact, going 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI in the D-backs’ 8-6 win at the Colorado Rockies.
Rojas would remain with the D-backs for the rest of the season, and he was one of the reasons the D-backs remained in the playoff race up until the end of the season. His first career MLB home run was the difference in the D-backs’ 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 30, and he went 4 for 5 with a double and a home run in Arizona’s 14-7 win over the San Diego Padres two days later. On Sept. 24, he made a crucial catch late in the D-backs’ 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in 19 innings – the longest game in Chase Field history.
Rojas' home run can be found at the 5:04 mark of this video:
“Obviously my debut was the best (moment), just an awesome experience to come up,” he said. “And the playoff race – all those games we played where we were in the hunt. High-pressure games. Big situations that come up in those games. Those are a lot of fun.”
But with just two months of experience at the MLB level, Rojas’ focus is on the Diamondbacks, not himself.
“I think my ultimate goal was to get to the big leagues, and I got here. So now, it’s just to compete and win games,” he said. “I don’t think I’m far enough into my career where I can set those long-term goals right now. Right now, it’s trying to help the team win, trying to contribute. It’s small goals right now."
GOING HOME AGAIN
Rojas’ trade to the D-backs and subsequent call-up allowed him to move back home – quite literally.
“I’m still at home with my parents right now,” he said. “I’ll have a place soon this offseason, but for now, it’s just convenient to stay there.”
Being back in the Valley has allowed Rojas to catch up with old friends whom he’s known since elementary school. The arrival of the offseason will allow him to make some new memories, and file those away with the old ones he cherishes.
“All my friends being there obviously has always been the best part,” he said. “(I’ve been) growing up with the same group of guys since fifth grade. We all grew up together, stayed pretty close, all athletes, all played sports.
“That’s what’s so great about Arizona, especially as an athlete, is that we can play sports year-round. We have great weather all year. Those are the best memories growing up.”