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OC Register: Hoornstra: For Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas, a minor league GM job made sense

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The 2020 season was strange enough for Victor Rojas. Soon, he’ll sit down and figure out whether he’ll have a 2021 season at all.

“It’s kind of like throwing darts in the dark,” Rojas said in a telephone interview this week.

This time a year ago, Rojas was preparing for his 11th season as the Angels’ play-by-play broadcaster on Fox Sports West. The baseball industry was preparing for a season like any other. Then the novel coronavirus pandemic struck.

It did not strike all parties equally. Players fought, and eventually gained, the right to pro-rated salaries in a 60-game season. Owners reportedly lost money across the board. Behind the scenes, layoffs and furloughs hit team employees of all stripes – scouts, analysts, minor league players. Broadcasters were not exempt from the weirdness of it all.

Looking out into a stadium of empty fans was nothing compared to looking out on the calendar and not knowing what’s next.

“What’s the certainty of Major League Baseball now?” Rojas asked. “As an independent contractor, am I going to get saddled with 60 games again? I didn’t have a guaranteed contract.”

Rojas, who was named President and General Manager of the minor league Frisco RoughRiders on Monday, doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. After signing one-year contracts to return to the Angels’ booth each of the last seven years, Rojas now has a multi-year contract with the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate.

It’s an unusual career move, to say the least.

There are exactly 30 regional television play-by-play gigs in Major League Baseball. Even after MLB took over operations of the minor leagues, and reduced the number of affiliated teams from 162 to 120, there are many more opportunities to run a minor league club. Rojas’ contractual situation in 2020 wasn’t unique; other broadcasters were hit with reduced pay during the shortened season. Still, it takes a special willingness to leave what most in his position would consider a dream job.

Rojas has had an unusual career. After retiring as a player after one season in the minors, he served as the bullpen catcher on the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993. The next year, Rojas became the pitching coach (and an occasional pitcher) for the independent Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings. In the six years that followed Rojas worked for the Arena Football League’s Anaheim Piranhas; the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes; the NHL’s Florida Panthers; the parent company that owned the Panthers’ arena in Sunrise, Florida; the performing arts center of Miami; Nordstrom, in a customer service role; then finally returned to baseball with the Independent Newark Bears in 2001.

With the Bears, Rojas was in charge of business operations as well as signing players and coaches. In Frisco, the Rangers will provide Rojas with his players and coaches, and leave the rest to him. He will be a sounding board to any RoughRiders broadcasters who want one, but he doesn’t plan to intrude on the booth.

“I’ll go up there as a guest,” Rojas said.

Prior to the pandemic, Rojas was not looking to change careers. The thought didn’t dawn on him even in August, when the Angels sputtered to their worst start in franchise history. That’s when Rojas said he began jotting notes in a Word document about how the team might improve, from the 40-man roster down to player development, scouting, and culture. By the time he was done jotting, the document was sprawling.

“I felt like sending it,” Rojas said. “I never sent it.”

Instead, when General Manager Billy Eppler was fired in September, Rojas took his ideas one step farther. He applied for the GM job. Owner Arte Moreno granted an interview. To prepare, Rojas said he condensed his original memo down to a 19-page presentation. Considering his time in Newark, Rojas had arguably more experience building a roster than the man who ultimately got the job, Perry Minasian. Yet his long-shot bid fell short.

News of Rojas’ interview eventually wound back to Frisco, a 30-minute drive from Rojas’ home in the Dallas suburbs. In December Chuck Greenberg, the RoughRiders’ managing partner and CEO, reached out to let Rojas know the GM job there would be open soon. Dec. 30 was the first time the two discussed particulars of the position, including pay. A week later, it was all but official. Rojas said he never formally interviewed for the job.

Greenberg owns two other minor league franchises, one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and another in State College, Pennsylvania. Rojas was confident that their financial picture was stable, with or without a slate of games in 2021.

“Whatever ’21 gives us, we accept it but we’re building momentum toward ’22,” he said. “I liked that mindset.”

Rojas, 52, will not lack for work regardless. He owns a clothing company, Big Fly Gear, that sells baseball-themed apparel. He runs the business from home with his wife Kim and their two children, both of whom are in high school. Frisco is scheduled to host a Division I college tournament in March. The prospect of leaving home for spring training or a six-month regular season is moot.

All in all, it’s not a bad place to be. More than the TV trailer sitting outside Angel Stadium, it feels like home.

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