This time there was no fancy Foxwoods Club. This time it was downstairs, in Citi Field’s regular news conference room, with reporters stuffed into the overheated basement.
This time it was on a Friday at 3 p.m., the spot traditionally designated for the end-of-week news dumps.
And here was Brodie Van Wagenen, introducing his second managerial hire in the span of 85 days. This time it was Luis Rojas, the former quality control coach entering his 15th season in the Mets’ employ.
The whole thing was an impossible situation, set in motion by Carlos Beltran’s firing for his role in the Astros’ cheating scandal.
It was an event the Mets wish never had to happen. So what do you say on such an occasion?
“Well, today is a proud day,” Van Wagenen said in his opening lines. “It’s a proud day for Luis Rojas. It’s a proud day for his family. It’s a proud day for the Mets’ organization.”
On the surface, Van Wagenen’s words rang true. When someone like Rojas gets promoted to the top job after starting out at the lowest rungs of the farm system, a franchise has the right to be proud.
When persistence and hard work are rewarded, it’s a shining moment for everyone involved.
Still, moving past Beltran and being comfortable with Rojas isn’t going to happen overnight. The tentacles of illegal sign-stealing remain tightly wrapped around the sport, and more punishment is likely to come once commissioner Rob Manfred completes his investigation of the Red Sox. Beltran may be gone, but Rojas is starting out under the shadow of his ugly removal, and for a while, everything he does will be framed in that context, fairly or not.
Van Wagenen did his best to blaze a new trail with a commendable intro for Rojas, but I couldn’t help but think of him delivering similar gushing praise for Beltran a little more than two months earlier — just upstairs in swankier surroundings.
Nothing the general manager could say would erase that recent history. The Mets are going to need real games to do that. Winning a lot of them, very quickly, also would be a big plus.
That’s not a knock on Rojas. By all accounts, he’s a bright baseball guy, and on Friday, he displayed a calm, cool maturity that felt advanced for his young age (38). But how much weight can we put into words at this stage? The Mets’ lightning-fast pivot to Rojas had as much to do with their hellbent urge to sprint past the Beltran firestorm as it did the new manager’s resume.
Van Wagenen was lucky to have a candidate like Rojas on hand. He had been through the previous interview process, and because the coaching staff already was in place, the Mets could simply promote him from the quality-control position to manager with practically zero disruption.
As the Astros and Red Sox continue to work to fill their vacancies, the Mets wrapped up their hire in a matter of days. Probably hours.
Another of Van Wagenen’s favorite buzzwords from Friday? Consistency. Not a term we usually connect to the Mets, given that Rojas is their seventh manager since 2002. But the GM now has a guy in place who has relationships with the roster, and as a longtime farmhand, he understands the importance of front-office collaboration.
That doesn’t necessarily translate to success. It’s just what the Mets want in their manager, as nearly every other team does.
Van Wagenen said he didn’t even consider any of the experienced candidates such as Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker in this second go-round. Rojas already has proved himself a good fit in the Mets’ machinery. They don’t expect that to change.
“Right now, we’re in a really good position,” Rojas said. “We’re focusing on this season. We’re very happy where we are. This is a great team and we’re moving forward.”
Rojas learned the game from a great teacher in his father, Felipe Alou, and spent eight seasons managing in the minors, where he helped cultivate some of this roster’s young talent.
Those are solid credentials, and Rojas came across Friday as businesslike, if maybe a little nervous. He admitted that Friday’s media crowd was the biggest he’s ever addressed, and dealing with that fishbowl figures to be one of his most daunting challenges.
It won’t be easy. Not everyone warms to the idea of having his moves questioned on a daily basis, and Mickey Callaway showed only marginal improvement in two years before being dismissed.
“We’re going to be really good at communication,” Rojas said. “And last but not least, we’re going to have accountability.”
Ah, yes. The “A’’ word. Often preached but not practiced enough in Flushing.
Rojas came on board Friday saying the right things, just as Beltran did in November, but with less fanfare. We’re assuming he’ll get the chance to do them.