RAGS TO RICHES
On November 4th, Ron Roenicke was officially presented as the next manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. It was great to see him in a Brewers uniform (#10). I first met Ron in the Double-A Texas League in a San Antonio Missions uniform in 1997 (I dug up some old photos below). That was a special year for me.
During the press conference, looking at Ron Roenicke shaking hands with Doug Melvin, I couldn’t help but laugh at how twisted this game really is.
There is a long list of reasons why I call “Rags” Roenicke one of the most impressive human beings I know. Aside from his incredible baseball mind, he introduced me to Baseball Chapel. He also helped encourage me through some challenging times in my career. But, one of the first encounters I had with Ron was one that involved my brother, Mike.
In 1996, Doug Melvin, then the General Manager of the Texas Rangers, released Mike. Mike was a right-handed pitcher in Major League camp with Texas. He had already been to the big leagues and was trying to earn a roster spot with the Rangers. He injured his shoulder in Spring Training that year and was eventually let go. His release was devastating. The shoulder required surgery and while the Rangers paid for the procedure, he was without the medical care of an employer. Mike was on his own to rehab his injury. It looked like his career was over. There was not going to be much demand for a released, 30 year-old, broken down pitcher.
After surgery, Mike moved in with me in San Antonio. Aside from broadcasting Missions games on the radio, I was Mike’s full-time catcher/rehab partner as he began the long process of trying to salvage his career.
Fast forward one year to May of 1997. Mike’s rehab was complete. He was pain free and pitching well in Monterrey, Mexico trying to prove to Major League clubs that he was healthy. He was having no luck finding a job. I decided to take matters into my own hands and approach Ron Roenicke, the new manager of the SA Missions. I had known him only a few months but drummed up enough courage to cross that fine line between media and manager to play “agent” for my big brother.
I gave him a passionate plea, selling him on the fact that Mike could help his team both on the field and in the clubhouse as a veteran pitcher. It was a young team that included future Major Leaguer’s like Alex Cora, Paul LoDuca, Matt Herges and Wil Brunson.
Roenicke made no promises but with unexpected compassion, went to work inside the Dodgers organization to see if there was a fit. Long story short (too late, I know), Mike flew in from Mexico for a tryout, went through a series of discussions, and just as I hit the air that night to open the broadcast, out popped my brother from the third base dugout in a San Antonio Missions uniform! I could barely compose myself. Ron Roenicke helped keep his dream alive.
The Missions won the Texas League Championship in 1997. Roenicke was the Manager of the Year. My brother won 4 games for the Missions and bounced up and down the Dodgers chain that year. He returned for the Texas League Championship Series and to this day, one of my greatest memories in the game was Mike and Ron spraying champagne on each other in the Shreveport clubhouse. Mike would pitch for two more seasons in Korea before beginning a professional baseball coaching career himself. Oddly enough, he is now a scout with the American League Champion Texas Rangers.
So, there is my first Ron Roenicke story. When he says he cares about his players and the people around him, he means it. In 1997, he was a minor league manager trying to make a name for himself. He took the time to help a minor league broadcaster he barely knew. He made an impact on me and my family that still resonates today. Mike calls “Rags” one of the best baseball minds he’s ever played for.
It’s a crazy gumbo, this game. I’m a big fan of Doug Melvin these days. But that name was a “four-letter” word in our household for a few years in the late 90’s. I tease him about it all the time.
Now, with dozens of stories just like mine surfacing about Ron Roenicke, he sits as the 18th manager in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Rags” is a man who has impacted many careers and many lives without asking anything in return. The man who takes great satisfaction in watching others’ dreams come true, finally gets a chance to realize his.