January 30, 2023

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'A special day': Rojas shines on late mother's birthday

4 min read
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ATLANTA — Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow

Following the most emotional trip around the bases of Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas’ career, teammate Pablo López leant him his shoulder to rest his head on. Rojas knew as soon as he woke up on Saturday morning that he would have a heavy heart. When he checked his phone, there was a text message from his father saying he should hit a home run for his late mother, Norma Naidenoff, whose birthday would’ve been that day.

Rojas went 3-for-4 with a homer that fulfilled his father’s wish, while ace Sandy Alcantara tied a career high by striking out 14 batters across eight innings in a 4-1 win over the Braves at Truist Park.

“It’s kind of surreal, but at the same time, I’m happy and I’m proud that having her on my mind helps me overcome so many things,” Rojas said. “At this point, it hasn’t been an easy year for me, and everybody knows that. At the end of the day, I don’t want to put that as an excuse. I just want to use that as fuel for me to continue to do good and continue to help this team.

“At the end of the day, it was an emotional and a special day for me, but it was great that the team could win, and Sandy was amazing on the mound. A really nice day for the club.”

But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Miami’s longest-tenured player hasn’t had the start to the season he had envisioned after signing an extension through the 2023 season. He admitted as much following a 5-1 victory on May 17, speaking of the mental part of the game’s effect on him. That’s not to mention recently missing two games with left calf tightness.

Saturday marked Rojas’ second three-hit game in 12 days, improving his line to .220/.267/.339 through 37 games. Despite the struggles, Rojas has remained the club’s unequivocal captain and leader.

As if by fate, Rojas deposited Darren O’Day’s sinker over the left-field wall into the first row for a solo homer in the sixth, giving the Marlins a 2-0 lead. While Rojas rounded second, he looked up and pointed toward the sky. Minutes later in the dugout, Rojas hugged López, who lost his father in 2020. Rojas then remained seated as he collected himself.

Lean on me
When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

“There’s things that happen in this game, and the world in general, that it’s hard to explain when it happens, and you can’t put why it happened,” said manager Don Mattingly, who has known Rojas since their days with the Dodgers in the mid-2010s. “But it seems to happen on those dates. A special day for him.”

Added Alcantara, who lost his mother, Francisca, last July: “Miggy did a great job, tried to put the ball in play, and you guys see he hit a homer. I saw him cry a little bit. He lost his mom. Maybe that was for that.”

For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Rojas didn’t retrieve the home run ball, and he’s fine with that. He would rather cherish the memories. Video of his swing will be a keepsake for his family forever. Once Rojas returned to the winning clubhouse, he saw a video message from his sister, Noelia, back in Venezuela celebrating his swing.

It’s thanks to her that Rojas posted via Instagram Stories two photos of his mother — one of her posing at a glass-bottom observation tower in Chicago, and the other of Naidenoff, Noelia and Rojas’ son, Aaron. Until then, he wasn’t sure how to commemorate her. Was it OK to celebrate her birthday?

A 2020 Gold Glove Award finalist, Rojas also impacted the game with his defense. He placed the tag on Ronald Acuña Jr. at third base for the final out of the sixth, and made a sensational play deep in the hole at short to prevent leadoff batter Michael Harris II from reaching in the ninth. Later with two men on, Cole Sulser secured the win with a strikeout of Austin Riley.

“For me, it was a complete game, and I’m happy for that,” Rojas said. “This one is one that I will remember for a long time. This one is coming up as one of the best games that I’ve ever played on a baseball field.”

You just call on me brother when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

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