Love of baseball keeps Fuego pitcher going and going
By Karen Boehler
Pecos League writer
SANTA FE — Most players in independent baseball are relative youngsters — recent college grads who didn't get signed or slightly older players who may have been injured and are hoping for a comeback. Which makes Rodney Tafoya, who pitched for the Santa Fe Fuego in 2012, somewhat different.
Tafoya is a 48-year-old pitcher who loves the game of baseball and has one goal in mind: to win 300 games in amateur ball.
"I set a goal about 17 years ago, when I was 29 years old, and that was to win 300 amateur games. And I'm (at) 280, so I need 20 this year, and I'm starting in two weeks in Puerto Rico. After that, I'll have 19 more and start the countdown."
The left-hander never pitched in the major leagues, but spent two years in Class A ball — in the Northwest League and New York-Pennsylvania League in 1989-90 — then pitched in the independent Prairie League in 1997 and last year, was invited to start for the Fuego. But when he wasn't playing professionally, he was staying active with amateur leagues.
At age 29, the Santa Fe native started playing in the Men's Senior Baseball League (which then was for players 30 years old and over) and still pitches in the younger, more competitive (18 and older) Men's Adult Baseball League. That's what sparked his goal.
"When I started, I hit 100 (wins) pretty easy in so many years and I thought, 'Surely, I could go for another 100.' So I hit 200, then I thought, 'Wow! Still going strong.' I hit 250 at (age) 48. Threw a no hitter. Still throwing shutouts."
And those wins don't include his professional wins and games he pitched in before age 29, so, he estimates, "I'm well over 400, or going to be close to 400, no doubt. But I wanted to separate myself from everybody else in the league (MABL) that I'm in, and definitely get 300 in this league that I'm in. And 300, I thought that was a good little milestone just to keep me interested and keep the passion alive and going strong."
And passion is apparently what keeps Tafoya playing.
"I think it's just more of a passion and a love for the game, and a respect for the game that keeps me going," he said. "But 97,000 pitches and still going strong. No surgery on my arm."
That alone is a major accomplishment, which he credits to being taught how to throw correctly when he was young.
"When my brother taught me the game in the back yard, I learned some really good mechanics," Tafoya said.
But still pitching at age 48? Jamie Moyer threw several games for the Colorado Rockies in early 2012 at age 50, but after he was released in May, Tafoya took over the title of the oldest active professional baseball player in North America.
"I think what truly amazes people is, 'How does he do it? How does he still continue year after year?'" Tafoya said. "So I"m blessed. I'm truly blessed. And I think, in my story, this is what I'm supposed to be doing because God allows it to happen. There's obviously a story behind it, but I just keep plugging away."
His time with the Fuego didn't earn him any wins — he was 0-3 in 10 games (six starts) with an 8.88 ERA — but even though he thought he might have been able to pitch more — or maybe get a win — he has no regrets.
"I felt I got cheated in a few games with some innings and maybe a win or two, but that's baseball, and the decision of the coaches, and I've been around long enough to understand, 'You're the coach and I'm the player, and 'Aye, aye, captain. Whatever you tell me.'"
The St. Michael's graduate pitched Santa Fe's home opener, and while he didn't get a decision — the Fuego came back late to beat Trinidad 17-8 — he said the stands were filled with friends and neighbors as he threw the opening pitch.
"It was very welcoming yet very humbling to be at home in front of the home crowd," Tafoya said. "I'd never seen a crowd like that, to begin with, with 1,200 or whatever we had that opening night. But it was a joy to be a part of it, and it was something that Santa Fe wanted for so long, and it came into fruition with (Andrew) Dunn and the city council. It was just a wonderful thing for me to be a part of it. It was just wonderful."
After the Pecos League season ended, Tafoya got back in the swing of things with his MABL Albuquerque A's, taking the team to the state title with a complete game, 17-7 victory over the Albuquerque Brewers.
And he's not done yet.
Just as he signed to play for Santa Fe, his autobiography "Ageless Arm … my passion lives in the core" was published. He's planning another book about his summer with the Fuego — including his playing host to 17 Fuego players, probably a record for a host family — and would love to play again if invited.
"You know what? I would love to play just for the fact I can," he said. "That I can do it. More so than anything, just the fact I can do it. I'm going to be 49 years old and can still do it. I would love an opportunity if it was presented."
That, of course, will be up to manager Bill Moore, but even if Tafoya isn't asked back, there's still those final 20 games to reach 300, and don't make any bets that Tafoya will stop pitching any time after that.
You can find out more about Tafoya at www.rodtafoya.com and www.ageless arm.com.
For more information visit Pecos League of Professional Baseball Clubs LLC. http://www.PecosLeague.com 575-680-2212