Seventeen days before spring training, as the Mets introduced their second new manager of the offseason, the spotlight was on the man who definitively was not the first choice the last time: Luis Rojas.
Rojas was not disappointed, he said, in November when chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen passed on him and selected Carlos Beltran as manager. But he “definitely” was shocked the past two weeks as Beltran became embroiled in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal, costing him his job, which created the opening that Rojas now fills.
That was the subtext to the hoopla Friday at Citi Field, where Rojas made his news conference debut as Mets manager: He wasn’t good enough in the fall, in the eyes of his Mets bosses, but he is good enough now.
“I felt prepared then,” Rojas said. “I feel prepared now.”
And so the Mets did it all again: another introduction for another manager, but this time in a smaller, less glamorous room, with fewer employees and fewer New York dignitaries in attendance.
Rojas struck many of the same notes as Beltran did Nov. 4, about how it was a dream come true and he couldn’t have done it without his family and he can’t wait to get in touch with all of his players and get started in Port St. Lucie and so on.
Without mentioning the obvious, that the circumstances around Beltran changed, Van Wagenen’s spin on the biggest change in Rojas’ candidacy was the leadership the Mets saw from him the past three months.
Beltran was brand-new to coaching. Rojas had been a coach and minor-league manager for the Mets since 2006. During various meetings as the staff prepared for spring training, Van Wagenen was impressed with the way Rojas, previously the quality control coach, stepped up.
“When we looked at the qualities that were going to be important to us right now, the conviction that he shows, the understanding of the program that he’s helped create and obviously the relationship he has with the players were key ingredients,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen said five times within the first minute of his brief speech that it was a “proud day” — for Rojas, for his famous baseball family (the Alous), for the Mets.
The Mets have a large collection of homegrown major-league talent — from Jacob deGrom and Seth Lugo to Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil to Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo — and now they have a homegrown manager to match.
The narrative with Beltran was the former star returning to his old team to do what they couldn’t do before: win a World Series. With Rojas, it is sort of the inverse: someone who took an entry-level coaching job, worked his way through the minors, joined the major-league staff and now gets a chance in the big chair — developing a strong sense of loyalty to the Mets along the way.
In that sense, this is an old-school hire by the Mets in an age when many managers — like Beltran — shift to the dugout from the front office or broadcast booth without real managing/coaching experience.
“There’s a lot of pride when someone is homegrown and someone has an organic development to a job like this. It’s a credit to an entire organization,” Van Wagenen said. “He’s done it, he’s proven it and it gives us a lot of confidence in him.”
One of the buzzwords around Rojas, who promised authenticity and accountability, is that he is even-keeled. Forgive him, though, if the biggest day of his career to date was an exception. He appeared emotional on stage, especially as he thanked his parents, including his father, Felipe Alou, the former Expos and Giants manager.
“I shared my emotions on the podium,” Rojas said. “This is a dream come true for me. It’s something since I got here to the Mets’ organization and I saw how things were done here, I looked forward to it and I developed into it.
“I’m really proud being here as the New York Mets manager. I feel ready for it.”