The Monday Baseball Column: Living vicariously through Ron Roenicke's nephew

Rob Bradford
April 20, 2020 - 9:30 am

Josh Roenicke sure could have used one of those holiday get-togethers with his uncle Ron the last couple of weeks.

"We always talked baseball my whole life growing up," said the 37-year-old pitcher, referencing the Red Sox interim manager. "But I wasn’t really worried about absorbing information. It was through one year, out the other, let’s go outside now. He is a little more on the quiet side than we are, but when he talks you listen because he has a great mind for baseball. … He’s great to talk baseball with. Everyone I know who played for him says the same thing: He’s quiet but when he talks it’s time to listen."

Those were the days ... going outside.

For Josh -- a pitcher who has 190 major league appearances under his belt -- not being able to casually talk baseball face-to-face with anyone for the first couple weeks of April was one thing, but being confined to a 12-by-20-foot room without the ability to even stray into the hallway was next-level uncomfortable. This was the price Roenicke had to pay in order to live his normal life again. The mandated quarantine was worth it because now he doing something his friends and family (Ron included) are currently only dreaming of - getting to play baseball again.

"Hallelujah," said Roenicke while summing up his current opportunity while appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast from his apartment in Taiwan.

Roenicke plays for one of the five teams in the Chinese Professional Baseball League - the Uni-President Lions: a club he has pitched for in each of the last three seasons. It is THE corner of the baseball world that is back in business.

"You have to be here. You would have no idea anything is going on here," he noted, explaining one of the unexpected obstacles was his "quarantine beard" continuing to push up on his surgical mask. "There have been 399 cases in the whole country, six deaths out of 24 million people. It’s everyday life here right now. There is nothing abnormal except when we go to the stadium they take our temperature getting on the bus and going into the stadium. Besides that, the rest of the world out there is living life like they would regardless of what is going on."

All eyes are on the CPBL, which Roenicke feels and understands. Will this work? These will be the first baseball players to find out.

The journey for the pitcher had been long enough for the California native, having gone to UCLA as a quarterback only to find himself doing drills as a wide receiver with current Patriot Matthew Slater due to the presence of another NFLer, Matt Moore. Ultimately, a demotion to the Bruins' practice squad gave Roenicke the sign he needed: Baseball was going to be his thing.

A 10th-round selection by the Reds in the 2006 Draft ultimately led to a big league debut two years later. After that came three more organizations (Toronto, Colorado, Minnesota) before ultimately landing in Taiwan. It was, in a nutshell, different. The food. The language. And certainly the baseball.

"They can hit. There are a lot of guys who can swing it. But the local arms aren’t even close velocity-wise and stuff. And the defense, it’s frustrating at times, which I don’t understand," Roenicke explained. "I heard about it and then you see it first-hand and it doesn’t make sense. Just the instincts, anticipation and routine stuff that’s hard on pitchers."

But different took on a whole new meaning in the last couple of months.

It started when Roenicke ventured home to Sarasota, Fla. to attend the birth of his fourth child. At that point, the folks in Taiwan were in the beginning stages of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak the back-and-forth to take place. But then he got the text that things had amped up, making the idea of isolation in a room across the world without his family very unappetizing. So an effort was made to possibly get back into Triple-A or even play in Mexico. No luck.

Dylan Shae Roenicke welcome to these crazy times! Born at 2:12 pm! 7lbs 6 oz’s, 21 inches!

A post shared by Josh Roenicke (@jroprimetime) on

"I was like, yeah, it sounds miserable, but what am I going to do. I’m already home," he reflected.

So it was back to Taiwan. It turns out that it wasn't such a bad thing.

Sure, there was the quarantine, which has been followed up by seven days of having to constantly wear a mask when out and about. There is no chewing tobacco and no sunflower seeds allowed, preventing excess spitting. And the baseball-playing environment has certainly been odd, with fans being replaced by cardboard cutouts and robots.

"It’s definitely quieter," Roenicke said. "But they still have the cheerleaders out there and they are still playing their music for the dances, which is obnoxious because there are no fans. You play that for the fans so they can dance along. So we’re in the dugout and the speaker is blaring behind us and we're saying, ‘What is the point in that when there is no fans for the cheerleaders?’"

But the paychecks are clearing and baseball is being played, with the regular season games having started April 12. This is the only game in town, and at least one Roenicke is smack-dab in the middle of it.

"From the very beginning it’s been normal baseball," Josh said. "I’m very fortunate and blessed to be here in this moment."