Rangers vs D-backs

Jill Weisleder/Arizona Diamondbacks

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas doesn’t like to be left out.

He missed opening day with a grade-two strain of his right oblique muscle but spent his downtime still focused on the game.

“It was very tough for me,” the Millennium High School graduate says from the team’s dugout during a May pregame practice.

“The worst part was definitely at the end of camp (Spring Training). I was getting excited to start the season and start the real grind with my teammates and build a bond with those guys.”

Watching his fellow Diamondbacks start the season without him was tough. Rojas watched the home games but could not hit the road with the team. He was forced to keep track of them on television.

“You know, just to keep up with how everybody’s doing,” says Rojas, who returned to the field on May 6. Fourteen days later he hit three home runs in one game against the Chicago Cubs.

Hometown hero

Raised in Litchfield Park and still residing in the West Valley, Rojas manifested his baseball dreams from Little League through University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

“When you’re so young, you have those aspirations of being a big leaguer,” he says, looking around Chase Field. “Everybody just pushes it down your throat that the odds are against you.

“I mean, the odds are against you. The guys who can stick to the grind succeed when it really counts. I was never a top prospect through middle school, high school or even in college.”

Rojas took the advice of mentors and coaches and devised a backup plan: studying sociology with plans to be a collegiate baseball coach.

“I took the classes that would allow me to focus most of my time on baseball,” Rojas says.

He quickly adds he doesn’t discredit anyone who suggests backup plans.

“I came up with a bunch of guys who were better than me on multiple levels and they just didn’t quite make it, whether their talent peaked or they got themselves into tough situations off the field,” he says.

Dashes of hard work, dedication, and a nose to the ballfield worked out well for Rojas. The Houston Astros drafted him in 2017 in round 26, 781 overall. Rojas — along with Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas and Seth Beer — pulled into Chase Field on July 31, 2019, in a trade with the Houston Astros for pitcher Zack Greinke.

Rojas is the second Arizona-born player to make his MLB debut for the D-backs. The other is Charles Brewer. Rojas is the 10th native to play for the D-backs.

In Rojas’ first season with the D-backs, he hit .217 with seven doubles, two home runs and 16 runs batted in.

“I never gave up on my first plan of making it to the big leagues,” he says. “You can have a backup plan but work toward your real goal. When you’ve exhausted all your options, then you can go to your backup plan.

“I had teammates in college who felt like, ‘OK, my potential is maxed out. I don’t see myself going to the next level,’ and then they shut it down and move on to ‘real’ goals.”

The perennial underdog

Rojas is a self-proclaimed underdog. He battled his way up to the big leagues while his friends hit corporate America, bought houses and started their lives.

“Meanwhile, I’m in the minor leagues making $10,000 a year,” he adds. “It’s very hard, mentally, to think, ‘There’s an end goal here, right?’ It’s very easy to say in two years I want to start being an adult. I want to make real money. It’s tough.”

It all paid off the day he stepped foot onto the grass at 401 E. Jefferson Street.

“When I was traded here, I was excited for sure,” he says.

“I was scared to get traded at first. I was very bummed and not really knowing what to expect, having to meet a whole new set of people, remembering everybody’s names, that whole thing.

“It’s like being the new kid in school.”

The upside was Rojas was traded to his hometown team, allowing him to play in front of his parents, his grandparents, his aunts, uncles, cousins — “everybody who has been supporting me along the way.”

“It’s a 20-minute drive from the house to come watch me play,” he says. “It’s been awesome.”