from www.baseballtrenches.com…We interviewed Rodney Tafoya a couple times here at the site last Summer, and found his story to be quite compelling, as he pitches on toward 500 career-wins, and is doing it all, at age 56….
Q&A With Rodney Tafoya. Tafoya at 56 years of age, continues to pitch in amateur tournaments and independent leagues all over the world. You can say what you want about it, but how many will still be competing with that much life and passion at that age? Here is his baseball story…..
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What made you so passionate about baseball in the first place?
ROD TAFOYA – At the age of two-and-a-half, my brother Jack (who’s 15 years older than me) taught me how to play using my left hand. As I got older and reached four and five year’s old, he worked on playing catch with me as a left-hander.
When I joined my first team in the Pee Wee League (at Capitol City Plumbing) at age six, I was a lefty.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You played at St. Michaels High School in the late 70’s. What were your goals at that point and what about your high school playing years do you remember the most?
A. ROD TAFOYA – My main goal in the ninth grade was to make my varsity high school team as a freshman. Much to my delight, I made it and from that point on, my personal goals were to get better as a player and become a starting pitcher. Although I didn’t get my first start until the following year as a sophomore, I had my sights on playing in college…
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – Then, you played your college ball with the New Mexico Highland University from 1982 to 1985. Tell us what it was like to start games in the playoffs against Mesa State.
A. ROD TAFOYA – Coming out of a AAA high school, the competition was mediocre at best. Where I received my best experience was in the summer in American Legion Baseball.
With that said, Cowboy coach Jim Abreu threw me right into the fire as a freshman. My first collegiate games were at #1 NAIA powerhouse Lubbock Christian, Division I Texas Tech, and U.T.E.P. I pitched well against Trinidad State J.C., Denver University, and Lamar.
By the time the NAIA playoffs started, I was the hottest pitcher on our staff and only a freshman. I went against Darrel Akerfelds, who was drafted in the first round by the Mariners. In his first year of pro ball, he averaged 11.2 K/9ip. He pitched in MLB for the A’s, Indians, Rangers, and Phillies.
The 6’2? Akerfelds transferred from the Arkansas Razorbacks, as he doubled up as the football team’s punter.
Being green and a bit nervous, I didn’t quite know what I had gotten myself into. But. I pitched deep into the seventh inning and gained a wealth of experience while losing a close one, 7-6 to a future MLB pitcher.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You then transferred to Newman University in 1985. Tell us who Coach Paul Sanagorski was and what you learned the most from him during those years.
A. ROD TAFOYA – While at NMHU during the end of my junior year, I found myself unhappy that we had a new managerial change. So, I started to look elsewhere. My major break came with an offer to pitch in the Jayhawk Summer League in Wichita, Kansas. Old-timer legends Dick Young and Jim Ryan, who was the GM for Satchel Paige’s Miami Marlins back in 1956-ran the club.
The previous year in 1985, the team operated as the Hutchinson Broncos, with Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Bobby Thigpen, Will Clark, and Jeff Brantley, all future MLB stars to be…
In the summer of ’85 Sanagorski was our pitching coach and offered me a full scholarship to finish out my college career. All in all, the Wichita Broncos had 16 player’s represented in the college draft, led by Arkansas’s Kevin Campbell and Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Richardson.
At Newman, I was a District 7 pitcher going 6-2. To this day, I give all my credit and experience to Sanagorski, who guided me through his leadership, baseball experience, and discipline. In his career he was a Kansas Hall of Famer for Newman, the City of Wichita, and the State of Kansas, winning well over 700 college games.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You also played in the AA Mexican Tabasquena League with the Comalcalco Cocaoteros when you were still 23 in 1987 and were optioned out to the AAA Rieleros of Aguascalientes of the Mexican League. How did you get into Mexican baseball and what are some of your greatest memories of those years?
A. ROD TAFOYA – It all started in 1983, when I was 19 years old. A college teammate invited me to pitch in the Chihuahua “Estatal.” After winning 14 games and reaching the finals, I quickly made a name for myself as a left-hander.
Immediately afterwards, I received a personal tryout at age 19 with the Tigres de Mexico of the AAA LMB. My parent’s allowed for the tryout, however, weren’t excited about foregoing my eligibility and a college degree. So, the Tigres brass and I compromised on a summer experience outside of Mexico City and the Academia de Pasteje. This is where all the future Mexican Stars were born, including Hall of Famer’s Matias Carrillo, Narciso Elvira, and Isidro Marquez.
After finishing up in ’85 with the Newman Jets, I pitched winter baseball for the AAA Liga Pacifico’s Naranjeros de Hermosillo’s AA affiliate in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. After a successful ’86 campaign winning 10 games, making the All-Stat team, and leading the Noroeste in strikeouts, the Diablos Rojos de Mexico City claimed my rights and invited me to Spring Training in ’87.
With a limit of four “extranjeros” per team, I was the odd man out and was the final cut and sent to AA Tabasco in April ’87. My experience playing with Nelson Barrera, Salome Barojas, and under the management of Benjamin “Cananea” Rojas, things were looking bright. I went a modest 5-5 and was optioned in June to the AAA Rieleros de Aguascalientes and to be managed by the Dodger duo of Sergio Robles and Jose Pena, who played in the 1970s in Los Angeles.
Some of my greatest memories were playing with or against ex MLBers Mike Norris, Steve Howe, Willie Mays Aikens, Dan Driesen, Warren Brusstar, and John Martin.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – Tell us a little about the Invite Only Tryout you were invited to by then manager Mal Fichman of the Boise Hawks. You finished as the clubs 5th Starter and had 47 innings on 47Ks with a 3.26ERA. How competitive was that situation and what was your relationship with Fichman and the club as such a youngster?
A. ROD TAFOYA – Mal Fichman has been one of the most influential baseball manager’s in my professional baseball career. From his personal call to my apartment in college inviting me to a 100-player, invitation only camp in California, where he signed me as his fifth starter. When I was on the verge of being released, still trying to figure out the Northwest League hitters, he gave me another start against the Eugene Emeralds. I responded by tossing a seven inning, no walk, ten strikeout gem to keep my job.
A few weeks later, I went into the eighth inning with a no-hitter against the Bellingham Mariners, settling for a combined one-hit shutout. From then on, he trusted and believed in me.
The following year, Fichman moved to the New York-Penn League and took me with him. Although he eventually released me due to a bum arm, we kept in contact. Year’s later we worked together for both the Padres and Phillies, as he was an Independent scout, finding players to fit right in to MLB organizations. Ultimately, Fichman signed hundreds of players to MLB/MiLB contracts through his Indy tryout camps across America.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You got hurt out in Mexico that winter and still managed to play with the Class A New York- Penn, Erie Sailors. How did that come about and how tough was it to pitch with injuries that year?
A. ROD TAFOYA – I went back to Mexico under the direction of the Diablos Rojos de Mexico, playing AA for the Pescaderos de Escuinapa (Sinaloa). It was a very difficult task then to crack a AAA Liga Pacifico roster, so I traveled where-ever I could pitch in 1989 immediately after my season in Boise, ID.
During one of my initial starts, I uncorked a slider to ex ASU Sun Devil and Los Angeles Dodger, Lemme Miller for a strikeout. Unfortunately, I popped a ligament in my left elbow that was diagnosed as an “avulsion.” Despite not needing to be surgically repaired, the doctor placed a cast on my arm.
Having never communicated this to Fichman or the Erie Sailors brass, I tried to rehab it quickly, but it just wasn’t ready to compete at the MiLB level yet. After two starts, I was unconditionally released. I did win my first start against the Jamestown Expos (Montreal).
The pain was so bad. It took a year to where I couldn’t pitch or throw a baseball. I headed for a Bank career that encompassed twenty-five year’s to a vice president. Little do people know, I had already been saving baseball’s and counting them. I got a second wind and started all over again, with a lesser pain in my elbow…
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – In 1997 you were back at it and played in the Prairie League with the Regina Cyclones. That year you tossed your career high 63 innings and struck out 36 batters. How you were feeling that year and what was going through your mind about chasing your baseball dreams?
A. ROD TAFOYA – In 1997, I had climbed the corporate ladder rather quickly, reach the vice president title. Having made a comeback after my debacle in the New York-Penn League, I found the MSBL and was 37-3 through my first few season’s.
Initially I had a tryout camp to attend with the Northern League in Malibu, California. After seeing ex-fellow Boise teammate Tommy Griffin, who was set to be the player-manager of the Prairie League’s Regina Cyclones., he mentioned that if there were no takers, he’d send me a contract to pitch as his fifth starter in Canada.
Sure enough on my birthday, May 7th, a contract arrived in the mail, just as Tommy had promised me. I was well liked at the bank, so I asked my manager for a 90-day sabbatical and they agreed.
Although my ERA was high, I did manage to lead the team in victories as a 33 year old veteran.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – It looks like you were off the map till 2012. Is that case? Where did you play in those years?
A. ROD TAFOYA – I actually returned to the state of Chihuahua and pitched in cities like Juarez, Janos, and Casas Grandes. In 2004, I pitched Casas Grandes to their first championship, winning the Zona V for that city, it’s first since 1977, when Teodoro Higuera won their very first one.
After going undefeated with an ERA under 1.00, and winning the championship, I was signed to pitch in the AA Liga Instrucional de Coahuila in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico for the Astros.
Staying hot and on a roll, my local team in Albuquerque won the Amateur State Baseball championship, where I pitched a no-hitter with 17 KS and winning the MVP Pitching Award.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You spent many years in the Pecos League on various teams. What is your opinion on the league what it meant to your continuing the chase for non stop baseball?
A. ROD TAFOYA – I have pitched for ten different team’s in the Pecos League since 2012 and was called on yesterday for a start in their Spring League in Houston for the Houston Apollos. I pitched into the sixth inning last year for Pecos Manager of the Year, David Patterson. He’ll be heading up an Apollos team that will be making their debut in the Indy American Association for 2021.
The Pecos League is just like any other Indy league in America. For those player’s that were overlooked by scouts in the annual college draft, etc. It gives them another opportunity to continue their baseball journey. Being the “lower rung” leagues in American Indy baseball, the league has had an increase in talent since it’s inception.
The talent continues to get better and better. Player’s continue to get stronger and with the advancement of Driveline, PitchLogic, Rapsoto Pitching, and the creation of Clubs like Jonathan Sintes’ Cutternation Baseball Training out of San Diego. The development of player’s across the country is paramount and bodes well for amateur and professional team’s in our country and abroad.
Other’s such as Pitching Tunnel Training and the Velocity Farm Baseball, utilize technology, sports medicine, and cutting edge technologies to enhance player development.
The Pecos League overall has withstood the test of time like no other Indy League since Indy League Baseball started in the 1980s. Commissioner Andrew Dunn has been the true model of consistency, even running a Covid19 Bubble League despite a national pandemic. Today his league continues to grow and gives player’s opportunities like never before. He continues to expand through the state of California and travels to the state of Kansas.
Look for the Pecos League to be around for decades to come!
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – Back in 2012, you wrote an autobiography entitled, Ageless Arm…My Passion Lives in the Core, published by Speaking Volumes. Tell us how you wrote that book in the middle of your constant traveling and playing baseball.
A. ROD TAFOYA – ….and bank career! I spent many a sleepless night writing this book. It was intended to inspire kids across America, however, just the opposite happened from the endless feedback that I receive.
Many CEOs and PhD student’s have pointed out that they get a lot of of this story due to the constant pitfalls a pitcher or professional athlete endures, especially when you last as long as I have. You have to be mentally strong to endure a challenging life long journey like this. You must devote every ounce of passion to your craft. It’s definitely not for everyone. Many cannot comprehend the love, passion, and dedication I have for the sport of baseball that continues to bring me personal happiness.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – You’ve been chasing that 500th win for a while when I last spoke to you. You received all sorts of attention with that story from some major magazines and sports networks. How many do you have now and what was it like to have your story out there like that?
A. ROD TAFOYA – My latest start was in Florida when I auditioned for a new team that I’ve been wanting to pitch for, the East Coast Cardinals. They’re loaded with a plethora of talented player’s from the East Coast. I flirted with both a perfect game (retiring the first 19 hitters) then a no-hitter (retiring 22 of the 25 batters faced). I gave up a hit and a couple walks and approached my 100-pitch count limit to prevent any future injuries that could ultimately ruin my chances of winning 47 more games and reaching 500 personal pitching victories.
It’s actually pretty amazing on the following and the continuous traction that my story has gained. Friends and admirers are asking regularly where I’m at and how it feels to be 91% of the way there?
Its always been fun to talk about the story and journey in major detail. My plan is to finish writing 2-3 more books chronicling the story in major detail.
One story idea is to write about how I did it. I’d like to break down the physical and mental aspect it takes to take on such a lofty goal…
The mental agony of what I do on a daily basis to keep my body and mind fit. Not everyone has the patience and endurance to run, hike, or walk ten miles a day at 7,000 feet elevation.
It’s a personal daily struggle mentally to focus on one thing everyday. Then we haven’t even talked about the game yet and all the headaches that brings to the story.
Then there’s the haters, naysayers, and jealous type that lurk in your shadows of daily social media that you constantly dodge through. You have to be mentally strong to let go in one ear and out the other. They will always try to get in your head.
Last week some player’s from the opposition were trying to communicate with me on social media the night before the game. I shut my phone off and didn’t come near it, as they were trying to needle me like a bully in grade school. Believe me, they exist!
Most that are close to me say to just think one game at a time, and eventually in the next three year’s, I’ll get there…
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – So far, you have many memorable and amazing accomplishments, trophies, rings and games as a sort of a Sunday League/Independent Pitcher. What are you most proud of right now?
A. ROD TAFOYA – I’m most proud to still be pitching at 56 years old. I try my best to outwork my opposition on a daily basis. Most of them work during the day. That’s when I work the hardest, creating my “edge” to be the best I can be. Putting 4-5 hours into my craft is exhausting, but when it’s all said and done, it will all be worth it to me.
Whether they like you and your story or not, you can think about all those distractions. In the end, this is my personal story and I own it. My personal story deserves the best personal side of me that I can give the world who watches my every move, pitch, and performance.
For those that watch from the outside lens that are as passionate about my story as I am, they deserve my best performance (as if I were on stage). The pitcher’s mound is my stage, my canvas, my painting.
In life many of us are blessed with a gift and some with many… When our time has expired many of us are judged by all the many things we’ve done and accomplished. From a young age, this is what I wanted to do “with my life.”
In the end, my work and performance are a reflection of my parent’s, family and teammates I pitch for. It’s a moral and value compass that some of us take on. For me personally, I want my life to show my love, dedication, and love for my sport. When I’m long gone, I want my legacy to paint a beautiful story of this wonderful baseball journey that I’ve been granted in life…
I’ve pitched in the amateur leagues since the early 1980s in the Stan Musial League, National Baseball Congress, Jayhawk League, MABL, and MSBL Leagues. I’ve traveled trough Mexico for the State of Chihuahua Estatal, and Canada’s Kamloops International Tournament.
Playing in all of these tournaments, I’ve pitched for 183 teams, throwing an estimated 80,000 pitches, winning 453 games in 678 games pitched. My arm had withstood the punishment, stress, and numerous injuries with any surgeries in my 50 years of pitching.
I’ve pitched in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. As an amateur my teams have won over 60 championships, including 28 National Championship rings with two National Hall of Fame enshrinements. My teams have also won two prestigious medals in two World Masters events, while winning championships in Mexico as well…
Aside from getting several baseball cards while playing as a professional, top ten major accomplishments stick out in my lifetime achievements:
? Received a full-ride baseball scholarship to both NMHU and Newman University, earning a degree in Business Management, 1989.
? 222-pitches in back to back victories in Puerto Rico earning MVP.
? Winning 20 games on the mound, while hitting 20 homers in the 1998 MSBL season.
? Winning 15 New Mexico State Championships in the Stan Musial, Mexican, MABL, and MSBL tournaments.
? At age 49, establishing both MABL New Mexico and MSBL Nevada state strikeout records with 23 and 22 respectively.
? Threw 379 pitches in in three games covering ten days at the age of 56.
? Won 11 MVP awards at various championship tournaments.
? Pitched four no-hitters, including one perfect game.
? Has one published book titled, Ageless Arm, My Passion Lives in the Core, 2012, Speaking Volumes.
Has had numerous books, stories, and magazine articles on his historic baseball journey. One book, titled America at the Seams, 50 Stories in 50 States of How Baseball Unites Our Country, is featured and sold at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Throne Publishing Group, 2017.
? Pitched professionally in professional leagues in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. for five decades (1986-2020).
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – Your latest team was the East Coast Cardinals of Panama City Beach, Florida. Tell us a little about that club and your experience there earlier this year.
A. ROD TAFOYA – The East Coast Cardinals are a team made up of great players that reside in the Eastern states of America. They have a great reputation for winning in both 35+ and 45+ tournaments.
I joined them because they give me an outstanding chance to compete and win at a high level. They will bring out the best pitcher in me when I throw for them… Again, when you’re on stage and all eyes are on you to win and succeed, you want to put on a great show and prepare for your next gig.
Q. BASEBALL TRENCHES – What’s next? What teams, leagues or tournaments are you planning to participate in this year?
A. ROD TAFOYA – My #1 team that I’m currently on is the Boston Wolfpack. Incidentally, they are friendly rivals of the EC Cardinals and play in the 45, 50, and 55 age divisions. They compete in the highest level, the National Division.
The Wolfpack have several ex-MLB players including Mark Whiten, Mike Smith, German Rivera, and Larry See. They also have a slew of ex-MiLB players that played between Class A and Class AAA professionals.
The Pack participate in three annual tournaments a year and have won an incredible fifteen of the past twenty-one Holiday Classic tournaments in Florida, six Las Vegas tournaments, four MSBL National Championships, and a gold medal in the 2017 World Master’s Games in Auckland, New Zealand.
For 2021, there will be a new Pecos League opportunity with the Alpine Cowboys, who give me the best opportunity for a win on the mound.
On the horizon, there will be trips to Cooperstown to compete in the annual Cooperstown Classic held in Cooperstown, New York.
Afterwards, I have plans to return to the annual Cape Cod Classic with a team from Boston. It will be another great experience to sample the local seafood offering in beautiful small town’s like Chatham, Yarmouth, Orleans, and Hyannis.
In 2022, the Wolfpack will fly to Kansai, Japan to defend their gold medal win from five years ago in the 45-and-over in the World Masters Games.
Also in 2022, I will be joining a team of fourteen exMLBers and AAA professional players who will return to Australia to defend their gold medal showing in the 35-and-over Pan Pacific Games in Gold Coast, Australia.