The entire team was already in the clubhouse. All you could hear was the crack of the bat, and then, about three seconds later, the thud of the ball landing safely in the mitt. After arriving at the park between 6:30 and 7:00 am, having meetings until 9:30, doing drills for two hours, and then throwing batting practice, Angels coach Ron Roenicke and his son, Lance, were the last two out on the field. Day after day after day.
That’s because for Roenicke, baseball–while always very important to him–has rarely been the most important thing to him. Family, friends, and teammates have all come before the game, as well as the opportunity to pursue an education.
Drafted in 1974 by the Athletics straight out of Edgewood High in West Covina, Roenicke turned down the offer to go pro from the three-time defending World Champion A’s. He was drafted again in 1975 by the Giants, and again in 1976 by the Braves and the Dodgers, but Roenicke declined the opportunity to turn pro each time. Instead he went to junior college, and then to UCLA, before being drafted a fifth time–this time in the first round, by the Dodgers, where he eventually signed on the dotted line and lost his amateur status.
It was clear right away to those around Roenicke that he was different from most kids his age. In 1978, as a 21-year-old kid, Roenicke was surrounded by an enormously talented squad. Dave Stewart, Mickey Hatcher, and Ted Power were all future major leaguers in training, as was a bulldozer of a kid named Mike Scioscia, who would be his teammates in the minors, and eventually in the big leagues as well.
But it was a long time getting there. The San Antonio Dodgers’ play-by-play announcer back then was Joe Fowler, who said that Roenicke was “an obvious student of the game. At 21 he became the team leader. Did he have the best batting average? No. Was he the fastest runner? No. But during the summer of ’78, Ron Roenicke became the ‘go to’ guy on the field and in the club house of the San Antonio Dodgers. The long bus rides told you a lot about the guys. Some would drink beer and pass out; some would play cards and cheat. Ron Roenicke would engage you in conversation. Baseball, business, family–his topics were varied. It was a bus full of kids doing time, trying to get out of San Antonio and make it big in the Bigs. What made Ron Roenicke different was that he was obviously having more fun doing it. ”
His career in the Bigs never fully materialized. We get jaded by the numbers the stars put up these days and forget that the journey to get to the Majors is a ride unto itself; one that so few are able to take. Roenicke made his debut with the Dodgers in ’81, and bounced around the big leagues for a few years before retiring as a player in 1988. The game was through with him, but he wasn’t through with the game.
He began his coaching career in 1992 with the team he made his MLB debut with, the Dodgers. But he wanted to manage, and he knew that in order to do so, he’d have to go back to where he started: the minor leagues. In 1994 in Great Falls, Montana, he began his managerial career and the long journey that would one day lead him back to the Bigs as a skipper.
He toiled in the minors for a total of eight years, before the call came in 2000 from his buddy and former teammate, Mike Scioscia. Twenty-two years after they’d played together for the first time in San Antonio, they were re-uniting in Anaheim; Scioscia as the manager and Roenicke as his third-base coach.
In 2002 the Angels won the World Series, the ultimate goal for any organization. But anyone can bask in the glow of success, which the Angels had plenty of during Roenicke’s tenure there. It’s when things get rough that the true character of a man shows.
“In 2009, when we faced the Nick Adenhart situation, I saw Ron rise to the occasion when the club gathered in our clubhouse for the first time,” Angels Vice President of Communications, Tim Mead, told me. “I will always remember him leading the group in a team prayer before we proceeded. His confidence, knowledge, and faith will continue to serve him well.”
Roenicke was named the new manager of the Brewers just over two weeks ago. He’s a first-time manager in the Major Leagues, but after almost 25-years in the game, don’t call him a rookie.
“Skip” will do just fine.
About the Author
Written by Scott Johnston
Scott Johnston is a longtime Sports TV Producer/Writer from Los Angeles who now lives just outside of Boston. After a long career at KCAL-TV in L.A., where Scott covered such things as Kirk Gibson’s HR, Hank Gathers death, and Magic Johnson’s retirement, NBA ll-Star Game MVP performance and subsequent return to the NBA. His favorite team is the Oakland A’s and whomever happens to be playing the Yankees, USC or the Cowboys on that particular day. Scott left his staff position at KCAL and formed his own small production company in 1996 while continuing to freelance there and at other stations, including WTTG in DC for two years. His company, ProTVSports, started out covering one team during Spring Training in 1997 but now covers six of the Cactus League teams. He also covers tennis and golf events during the year and has had the privilege of covering 5 NBA Finals, including two of the last three. Scott loves all sports, but considers baseball to be his favorite. He loves politcs, reading, movies and his wife and two daughters—not in that order!