Rod Barajas, From Diablo to Chihuahua, and in between.
The Arizona Diamondbacks went from idea to reality in 1996. The team built it's minor league affiliations with teams close by and El Paso was able to be the AA team for the new franchise. At the end of the year, the Diamondbacks signed a catcher, Rod Barajas.
In the summer of 1999, Brajas would find himself in El Paso, as the Diablos were in the middle of a disappointing 64-76 campaign. That roster was loaded with talent; Junior Spivey, Brad Penny, and Byung-Hyun Kim, were just some of the 16 players on that 1999 Diablos squad to make the Majors. Among those players, El Paso Chihuahuas manager, Rod Barajas. "As a player, you're competing day in and day out. You're going through the grind, it's about your career and trying to become a better player."
Become a better player he would, after the season ended for the Diablos, Barajas would make his MLB debut with the D-backs on September 5th of 1999, and went 0-3. However his first call up wouldn't be all bad, getting a home run in the final game of the season.
Barajas would spend the next 2 seasons bouncing between Triple-A and the majors, but in his short stints, showed his knowledge of the game by not committing an error in any of his MLB appearances.
In the 2001 season, Barajas would become an integral piece of the puzzle for the Diamondbacks as he played in 51 games, and posted a .995 fielding percentage, committing only 1 error while behind the plate. That season would see the D-backs become the class of the National League, with dominating pitchers, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
"Randy Johnson was a tough guy to catch because he didn't have that control... Because he had such velocity he could get away with his mistakes, that slider was devastating, it was hard, it was sharp and it was late. Curt Schilling wasn't as hard, he threw a straight fastball, and he knew where he was going to put it. So he was a little easier to catch. The Schillings, the Halladays, the Kershaws, even though their stuff was so good, they mastered their ability lo locate pitches to where it wasn't that tough."
Arizona would face off against the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series, in one of the most dramatic and memorable Fall Classics of all time.
Neither team would pull away from the other, and in Game 5, Barajas, who was a late addition to the lineup, would live the dream of many children. The Yankees had sent one of their Aces, Mike Mussina to the mound. The D-Backs countered with Miguel Batista, and both pitchers dueled scoreless innings into the 5th.
Steve Finley would homer to begin the inning, but Mike Mussina would then get two quick outs. Rod Barajas would fall to 0-2 in the count, and Mussina would throw his go to Knuckle Curve ball.
"It was just a surreal moment, the fans in Yankee Stadium always throw the ball back when the opposing team hits a home run and I got that ball back, and have that same ball that I hit at home. It was just surreal, one of the highlights of my playing career, and one of those moments I'll never forget."
That unforgettable moment is etched in the history of baseball, as part of one of the most memorable World Series. Though the Yankees would go on to win that battle, in extra innings, the Diamondbacks would win the war. Winning the World Series with a bloop hit in Game 7 in The B.O.B.
Rod Barajas would go on to play another 11 seasons in the MLB after that World Series win, playing for the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, L.A. Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. In January 2016, he was named Manager of the El Paso Chihuahuas, bringing him to another stint in El Paso. It wasn't Barajas's first job at the helm of a minor league team. in 2015 Barajas started the season in High-A ball, and was called up to AA San Antonio, when former Chihuahuas Manager Pat Murphy was called up to the Padres, and Jamie Qwerk was called to manage El Paso.
Barajas has a very focused and extremely effective way of explaining his new role in El Paso.
"It's no longer about me, it's no longer about my career. It's about trying to help develop young players and make them Major League type players. It's a lot different from being a player, but its a job that I get just as much satisfaction as anything I've ever done, being a coach, and telling a guy that the hard work has paid off, and you're gonna go live your dream."
It was that same passion and fire that drove him as a player to reach the MLB and become one of the best defensive Catchers in the history of the game, according to baseball reference. It's that same drive that makes him a great Manager. With players like Hunter Renfroe and Carlos Asuaje, Barajas and the Chihuahuas are sitting in first place in the PCL's Pacific Southern Division, 8 games ahead of the Las Vegas 51's. It's incredible seeing someone who has ties to El Paso, come back and have such an impact not only in the favorite pastime of the city, but in the community as well.
The Chihuahuas are on the road for a series against the Oklahoma City Dodgers and Colorado Springs Sky Sox. El Paso will be back home against the Salt Lake Bees on August 20th. To Fetch the Fun, buy your tickets here.