Father's Day

My Dad knows Cookie Rojas caught that ball

For Father’s Day, our Phillies Nation writers are sharing stories about their dads. Here’s Michael Sadowski.

Like many Phillies-loving 15 year olds, my dad suffered through 1964.

In the late September losing streak that doomed that team, there was a Saturday afternoon game against the Milwaukee Braves where it looked like the Phillies could turn it around. My dad had done what he always did to get to Phillies games – he got my grandfather, not a baseball fan, to drive him there. As per the usual, my dad fulfilled his requirements by paying for my grandfather’s ticket, gas from and back to Wilkes-Barre, turnpike tolls and parking.

The Phillies were leading, and Cookie Rojas made a diving catch in the ninth off a Hank Aaron strike that looked like it would help preserve a win – except the catch didn’t happen. The umpire called a trap, sending Rojas and manager Gene Mauch into a ballistic fury. Rojas got tossed. The trap opened the door for a Braves rally and another Phillies loss. It has been my father’s contention since that moment to this current day and likely to his death bed, that:

  1. Rojas caught the ball.

  2. The Phillies win the 1964 pennant if the umpire gets the call right.

Fast forward to 1992. I’m 17, and my dad and I play in a weekly nine-hole golf league on Tuesday nights at a course out in the boonies that, to this day, doesn’t have cell service. My dad has now been holding on to this Cookie Rojas business for almost 30 years. Driving home from our golf league, Rojas comes on as a guest on a nightly, local sports call-in radio show, during his appearance at a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons game. My dad is dying to call in, but we can’t find a phone booth (that’s right, I said phone booth!) for about 10 miles.

We’re a mile from home – a mile – and he pulls over to a pay phone at a gas station to call because he’s worried sick that in that extra mile drive, Rojas may leave the airwaves and he might not get to ask him the question he’s been dying to ask him for 30 years. I’m sitting in the car listening to the broadcast while watching him in the phone booth as he gets put through to talk to Rojas.

He lays it all out. “Cookie, Cookie, it’s 1964. I’m 15. I’m at the Milwaukee game …” and he describes in shocking, colorful detail the same story I’ve heard over and over for my 17 years on earth.

Finally, he gets to the part that concerns Rojas: “And it’s the ninth inning and Hank Aaron hits it to you and …”

Before my dad could finish, Rojas cuts him off and gives him the validation he’s needed to hear his whole life in a stern, pointed, still-angry voice:

“I CAUGHT THAT BALL.”

In that phone booth, there was jubilation. A grown 43-year-old man with four kids started jumping up and down while still on the phone, screaming, “I KNEW IT!!! I KNEW IT!!! I KNEW IT!!!”

Rojas goes on to tell my father that if the ump hadn’t blown that call, the Phillies would have won the pennant, the exact stance my father has told every sports-loving barfly in northeastern Pennsylvania going on three decades. He still loves to tell people about The Night My Dad Talked to Cookie Rojas, and loves it when fellow Phillies fans of a certain age know exactly what he’s talking about and derive as much enjoyment out of it that he has for the last two-and-a-half decades.

My dad has taken me to dozens of Phillies games over the years, we’ve had hundreds of late-night conversations trying to solve the problems of the Phillies and we got to embrace after a particularly errant swing from Eric Hinske in 2008. But when I think of my dad and his love of the Phillies, that’s the memory I’ll always have.

Happy Father’s Day to the biggest Phillies fan there is, my dad.

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