Hours before the 6:40 first pitch, hours before he was scheduled to make his Chase Field debut with 40 of his family and friends in attendance, Josh Rojas was at his parents’ Goodyear home to get ready for his big night.
“Where are you going?” his sister asked. “I’m going to work,” he quipped.
His Arizona Diamondbacks were hosting the San Francisco Giants on August 15. He didn’t want to be late.
D-backs’ ace Zack Greinke was traded to Houston in exchange for Rojas and three other top prospects. And Rojas, a 2013 Millennium High School graduate, is still getting acquainted to his new workplace.
“It’s awesome. I was driving to the field today, and I’m driving from home to go play at Chase Field,” says Rojas, 25.
It’s been a whirlwind since July 31. Moments after the 4 p.m. MLB trade deadline, Rojas was announced as a centerpiece in the Greinke deal. He was assigned to the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A team in Reno the following day.
But his stint with the Aces was short-lived, courtesy of a .514 average, three home runs and 14 RBI in eight games. He was promoted to the big-league club on August 12.
He made his major-league debut that evening in Colorado, batting sixth and patrolling left field. He also tallied his first base hit, finishing 2-for-4, and landed his first RBI.
On August 15, Rojas made his Chase Field debut in front of a contingent of family and friends, who flocked the seats behind home plate to watch their hometown kid.
“It felt like everywhere around the stadium I saw somebody waving to me. I definitely had to try and stay focused on the game. You don’t want to ‘big-league’ anyone. I tried to acknowledge everyone I saw, but obviously, you have a game going on so you have to focus a little bit.”
Rojas was a three-year varsity starter at Millennium, a career .382 hitter who swatted 11 home runs with 67 RBI. His sophomore year, spring 2011, he was a vital piece in the Tigers’ run to the semi-finals round in the state tournament. He was also a three-sport athlete, playing football in the fall, soccer in the winter and baseball in the spring.
Those Millennium baseball teams he played on were some of the “better teams I’ve ever played on,” he says.
“Coming up through Millennium were some of the better players I’ve been around. Coach (Michael) Jacobs was an awesome head coach. He knew how to let us have fun, how to get us to bring it in. We went out and played games hard and had a lot of fun and won a lot of games.”
Life has drastically changed for Rojas since he donned a Tigers uniform. After graduating, he played a few years at Paradise Valley Community College before transferring to the University of Hawaii. He was selected by the Astros in the 26th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
Rojas made quick work in the Astros’ organization. Since his call-up from the D-backs’ Reno Aces, he’s batting .278 with a double, RBI and three runs scored, as of August 16.
Manager Torey Lovullo says he plans to give Rojas plenty of playing time over the final six weeks of the season. He told reporters the newly acquired outfielder is a “tremendous player and a tremendous addition to the team.”
Rojas says that comment allows him to relax and focus on playing the kind of baseball that got him here.
“I think one of the biggest things when you come up to the big leagues, the nervousness comes from being afraid to disappoint someone or disappointing your manager and disappointing your teammates,” Rojas says. “I think that’s the biggest thing that can cause nervousness up here. From the day I walked in, I talked to Torey and he told me he wants me to play just how I play, and my teammates in the clubhouse – same way.”
As a hitter, Rojas has been as advertised, hitting safely in four of his first five games. He doesn’t expect the magic of the big leagues to ever fade.
“When I was in Denver, that first game, it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth inning when we had a break, like a pitching change, where I finally had a chance to look around and be like, ‘Wow, this is the big leagues. This is the real deal.’”