Still coaching 30 years after he saw Cibola High School catcher Johnny Roskos play baseball, Rio Rancho High School baseball coach Ron Murphy told his players one recent late-winter afternoon he’s never seen anyone hit the ball father.
A two-time Player of the Year, according to the Albuquerque Journal during his days with the Cougars – he grew up in Rio Rancho but this was several years before Rio Rancho High School opened – he was inducted into the Cibola Hall Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Roskos, a Rio Rancho Police officer for nearly two decades, talked a little about his professional baseball career, how hard it was to get to the majors – albeit for 37 games – and what he did to get there.
Initially committed to play at Louisiana State University, Roskos became the second-round pick, and 69th player drafted in 1993, by the fledgling Florida Marlins. Interestingly, another kid just out of high school, Alex Rodriguez, was the overall No. 1 pick, and only one catcher, Jason Varitek, was drafted before Roskos. Roskos was a teammate of A-Rod on the 1992 USA Junior National team; Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch was that team’s other catcher.
Also drafted that year by the Marlins were two other kids from New Mexico, Alamogordo High’s Billy McMillon and Eldorado High pitcher Greg Mix; Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Red Sox skipper Alex Cora were also drafted then – much after Roskos. (The ’93 draft lasted 91 rounds, and 1,716 players were selected.)
Unimpressed with the Marlins’ signing offer, Roskos said he took his time to have the Marlins sweeten the deal – “The Marlins were being a little cheap,” he said — and signed with them two days before he was due to report to LSU, the 1992 NCAA champ.
Roskos, 48, detailed the slow climb: Rookie ball in 1993; low-A ball in 1994; Class A in 1995; double-A in 1996-97; triple-A in 1998, plus his 10-game MLB debut with the Marlins; another “cup of coffee” (13 games) with the Marlins in 1999; and triple-A experience with Pacific Coast League teams in Calgary, Las Vegas, Portland and Iowa – and 14 of games with the San Diego Padres in 2000. (Roskos’s 2000 season with Las Vegas was shortened when he was beaned by a 93 mph fastball from Tacoma’s Ryan Franklin.)
He retired in 2001, although in spring training that year, Padres manager Bruce Bochy told the Observer, “Things are going to work out for John because he can hit.” (Geez, if only the National League had a designated-hitter in 2001!)
Roskos lauded Murphy, a longtime friend and someone who he finds hard to refuse when it comes time to speak to his players.
“I know (Murphy) can be an annoyance,” Roskos told the players in their locker room. “He’s an annoyance because he cares. … There’s not a better coach, not a better complex in the state.
“You guys got something that’s really, really special.”
Reviewing what makes a “five-tool player,” almost always desirable in big-league baseball, Roskos said he had two of the five: He could hit for average and he could hit for power.
It took him a while to show that; he scrawled some numbers from his first pro months, a .175 batting average and one home run. That was a bit below what he’d done as a Cibola senior, namely hit 684 and hammer 15 homers.
“Do you know what a mental mind screw that is?
It was time for “a reality check – big time,” Roskos said. “What drove me was embarrassment.”
He eventually worked hard, remained determined to make it to “The Show,” and kept showing improvement.
And working hard is what Murphy expects from his players – and a commodity that comes from within.
Roskos provided the stats for baseball, namely what percentage of prep players get to college, and how many of them make it to professional baseball – and a minute amount of those get to the majors.
Although probably no one there realized this, there are only 30 men born in New Mexico who played in the major leagues; Roskos was bornin in Victorville, Calif., so he doesn’t count.
A handful of them from New Mexico high schools are still on big-league rosters today: Mitch Garver (La Cueva), Kenny Giles (Rio Grande), Alex Bregman (Albuquerque Academy) and Trevor Rogers (Carlsbad).
Those aren’t great odds, but it won’t hurt to work hard and see how far your dream and all that sweat take you.