Fans of the Angels are lucky to have Victor Rojas as the voice of their favorite team. On the air, Victor injects a little humor into his play by play duties. He calls the game fairly, without the homerism that has become common throughout the game. Through it all, Victor’s love of the game of baseball is evident.
Away from the broadcast booth, Victor is a class guy. Always approachable and very giving with his time, he gave me a call on his way to the Big A to talk 2018 Angels baseball and answer the pivotal In-N-Out vs. Five Guys question.
Here’s the first part of our talk:
What are your first impressions of Otani and how are you loving calling his games?
“I think the term that I keep using is ‘amazing.’ Considering the struggles that he went through, or the adjustment period if you want to call it that, through six weeks of Spring Training.
For him to be able to make adjustments as he has, especially towards the end of Spring Training and have them carry over at the Major League level as if it was something he was doing all along is just amazing, remarkable, whatever word you want to use.
I remember doing an interview going into the Freeway Series with Roger Lodge and we got into this topic of ‘is everybody writing him off? should he go to the minor leagues?’ all this stuff.
I said to Roger, first of all I’ve never thought anything of Spring Training numbers, whether you’re a veteran or a rookie. They obviously mean more if you’re a rookie trying to earn a job because that look at that more so than if you are a veteran player. But they really don’t mean a whole hell of a lot. And for a guy that was transitioning to a new country, new team, a new way of doing things to go right to Arizona with the dry air to try and make adjustments to pitchers he’d never seen before or a mound that he’d never pitched off before, I knew there would be some time of adjustment there.
There’s no way that 30 teams wanted this kid. Its not as if that was the actual talent that we saw in Spring Training that had every team salivating.
I kind of tapped the brakes with Roger and said you’ve got to let him see some action. Real action. Night time games. Meaningful games. And see what transpires. And we saw it the first game at Dodger Stadium, the leg kick was gone and it became a toe tap, and boom he hits the ground running on the first pitch of his Major League career with a base hit to right field.
Then he gets on the mound on Sunday and just dazzles us. And to me, the big thing out of that, was that he gave up the home run to Chapman in the third inning and easily could have been rattled because everybody’s coming down on him and piling on on him. And he goes out and retires 14 out of the last 15. He’s freaking Ice Man. It didn’t even bother him. He wasn’t even phased. It was like ‘alright, I made a bad pitch, he capitalized, I tip my cap to you, now you have to deal with this.’
And that’s exactly what he did. That’s kind of the way he is, the way he’s handled his business.”
I know it is early in the season, but how are you viewing these 2018 Angels compared to the teams in the last few years?
“We’re 16 games in and the team hasn’t lost 4/5ths of their rotation yet as they have the last couple years. Now its still early and guys do have injury histories and you worry about it.
Let’s see, JC’s done with Tommy John surgery, Shoe’s out with that never issue that is flared up again. But you keep your fingers crossed that Andrew and Tyler and everybody else is going and that Garrett can stay healthy and produce at the level that’s possible.
But as far as comparing the teams, really I mean there is no comparison. This is a very deep lineup, this is a very good defensive unit. If you’re a pitcher standing on the mound, where’s the breather? Where are you looking for that quick, clean inning?
Those 7,8,9 hitters are flipping the lineup over. That gives you something to think about on the mound. And a late inning pitcher coming into a game that the days of going ‘I can get this guy and the next two are gone’ or ‘I can pitch around this guy’ are over. There’s no pitching around.
So far, through 16 games, you pitch around one guy and the team is making you pay for it one way or the other. That certainly stands out as a huge difference from the last couple years.”
You mentioned the defense. We have Cozart, and Kinsler, and of course Simmons. Now that he’s added an offensive component to his game, he has to be one of the most overlooked players in the game, right?
“There’s no doubt. I think people probably look at last season of him offensively as an outlier and maybe just say ‘alright, he’s still a defensive minded first guy and offense is going to be something we look at secondarily’ but there’s no question there’s a bounce in his step, there’s a confidence about him, there’s some swagger.
And there should be because he’s now been able to put it all together. Defensively he is what he is, which is a Gold Glover, and offensively a guy that can impact this ball club.
To me he is the guy who when Trout went down in Miami, went down for an extended period of time, other guys stepped in but Andrelton Simmons was very steady throughout the entire year on the offensive side of things. So, I think he just gets better and better.
When I look at trades, the best trades are the ones where both teams get something good out of it. And maybe the Braves have gotten something really good out of Sean Newcomb, and the Braves get that every fifth day. But the Angels, they get an impact guy every single day on the field and every single day offensively. That’s tough to quantify, that’s tough to put a good value on and with a team friendly contract for a couple of years, I think kudos to Billy Eppler for making that move.
I think that trade was kind of the first remodeling of this ball club and what his vision was and we kind of saw the rest of it play out this past off season.”
Definitely. How often do you interact with Billy Eppler?
“Very little. If there’s something I want to ask him or talk to him about and he’s not around I’ll just text him, but other than that not a lot.
He’s a very approachable guy and if he’s around you can shoot the breeze with him about anything, unlike previous general managers, and that goes to whether is was Jerry or Tony since I’ve been here, who liked to play things a lot closer to the vest.
Sosh is a guy who plays things close to the vest unless it is a one on one and he knows that we’re not going to throw anybody under the bus and he knows it is going to help us kind of understand some of the moves that are being made.
And I think that’s good for us as far as our business is concerned when you got Billy, and you know I like the way he thinks. It is tough to pigeonhole him as is his a Theo Epstein kind of guy? Is he a Brian Cashman kind of old school guy?
I think he is a lot more like Brian because I think Brian, because he’s been there for so long, I think he’s had to adapt and it is just a different animal when you’re dealing with that type of budget and being able to do whatever it is you want to do. They’ve gone through a remodeling of that Yankees organization from a philosophical standpoint and I think that’s kudos to Brian for being able to evolve as a general manager on the fly because you have to, because the information is there, you got to use it and put it in use.
And Billy, having worked so many years in that organization, has seen this. He’s been able to kind of not fall in love with ‘hey I’m just an eye test guy, I’m going to leave the numbers to the numbers guys.’ It is a marriage of both and so far, so good. There’s going to be things that work out and things that don’t work out but for the most part it has been a positive tenure thus far from Billy and this is a pretty good vision that is playing out on the field right now.
And it all really goes back to Billy and his guys saying ‘these are the targets that we want’ and not falling in love with what the fan base is looking for, what the rumors are out there, but just kind of sticking to the plan. And so far, so good.”
You brought up Mike Scioscia. This is the last year of his contract. Do you have any better indication than the fan base does as far as is this the last run for Mike? Is he going to be around for a few years or does the franchise even know what is going on?
“I really don’t know and I don’t ask those questions. That really doesn’t affect what I do on an everyday basis.
I look at it this way: So he’s had one heck of a run. He’s on the all time list as far as wins. Probably has a pretty good chance at getting into the Hall of Fame.
The question becomes ‘is he done? Is he burnt out? Is the grind getting to him?’
You know it’s not just six months. We, I mean we the fans, we turn on the TV on April 1st and it’s 1 of 162 and on October the 2nd we turn off the TV and we’re like ‘alright it’s the hot stove”, right?
For managers and General Managers that’s not how it works. Its non-stop. Its constant. And I would imagine, and it did with my dad, it wears on you. It is a grind of doing this every single day and being on the road for as many days as you are on the road and away from your family. After a while it gets to a point where its like ‘alright, I’ve done enough.”
I don’t know if Mike’s there yet. He’s still the same Mike that was at the helm when I came on board nine seasons ago in 2010 and that’s a good sign. That means he’s still loving what he does, still loves the game of baseball.
He’s an incredibly smart guy when it comes to baseball, not just the here and now but the historical part of it. The conversations that he has are great and engaging and you kind of really want more of the stories, you don’t want them to end. And I’m not talking about a Tommy Lasorda laughing type, but from a cerebral standpoint and it is refreshing to see some of that stuff.
Most managers today, they don’t give you a whole lot when it comes to press conferences and I understand that there’s the guarding of information.
But at the end of the day I think it is just going to come down to one, what the organization would like to do with Arte and Billy and John Carpino and those guys making the decision. But if this team continues to play the way it does I’d imagine that Mike still has that fire in his belly and wants to keep going and if the team wants him to stick around I think more than likely he will.
Those are questions that will just have to play out as the season progresses or even after the season is over.”
Part two of this conversation will be up shortly. Please leave comments and questions below. Victor will definitely see them (and has even been known to post here from time to time).