Senior staff writer
Special promotions and an outfielder with a famous baseball name are sure to result in added excitement for Indianapolis Indians fans this season at Victory Field.
Cal Burleson, vice president of operations and administrative affairs, is a former Franklin Township resident, and outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. was born in Indianapolis while his father played briefly for the Indians in 1990.
Burleson, whose daughter, Heather, played basketball at Perry Meridian High School, is the Indians’ liaison to the Pittsburgh Pirates and other professional baseball teams. He has been with the Tribe since 1975 and also serves as the squad’s spokesman.
“The Pirates have furnished us with another very competitive team,” Burleson said. “We will be exceptionally strong in pitching; the back end (closers) of the bullpen will be as strong as any team; (we will be) very strong up the middle defensively.”
Burleson, who served as the general manager for several years, revels in the number of promotions at Victory Field. The Indians set their all-time single-season attendance record of 660,289 fans in 2014.
“Our attendance has increased in each of the last five years,” he said. “Our fans know that Victory Field is the place for baseball and affordable fun.”
Promotions include Monday dollar menu nights (May 18) with hot dogs, peanuts, potato chips, Cracker Jack and popcorn for $1 each; two-for-one Tuesdays (May 5) with vouchers available at McAlister’s Deli; working Wednesday (May 6) games at 1:35 p.m.; fireworks Fridays (May 1); signature Saturdays with autograph sessions, Wade Boggs on May 2; and kids-eat-free Sundays (May 3) for children 14 and under. The season also features faith and fellowship and “Star Wars” nights.
A college game – Notre Dame vs. Indiana – is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 21.
“The fans are really great,” said Rojas, whose year-round home is in the Dominican Republic. “This is a nice city, and I was born here so that makes it even better. My dad thinks it’s really cool that I get to play where he played.”
Rojas hit .277 with the Tribe and .332 at Altoona (Double A) last year.
“Last year was a great year,” Rojas said. “My hitting kept getting better. I have made progress. When I was younger I would go up there (batter’s box) and think too much. I’m getting better pitches to hit; I can see the ball so I can hit the ball. You have to have a good pitch to hit, but you have to be aggressive.”
The 24-year-old said his dad calls him after most games and gives him constant encouragement, especially after a bad game.
Rojas, a third-generation player, is primed to play in the major leagues. He was drafted in 2010 in the third round by Pittsburgh and reached Triple A last year. His fellow outfielders are Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata and Jeff Decker, who is on rehab from the majors.
Pittsburgh’s outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco is considered the best in the National League.
“I try to stay consistent, play my game and not worry about what’s going on in the majors,” Rojas said. “I focus on my game and what I can do. I know when that time arrives, it will be great.”
Rojas’ father did not want his son to pitch. A shoulder injury after 10 years in the majors cost his father a career as a pitcher. His father made 17 starts for the Indians in 1990. His best season in the majors was in 1992 with a 7-1 record and an ERA of 1.43 with the Expos. He is a pitching coach for San Diego.
Rojas Jr., a switch hitter, impacted the Indians last year with a 10-game hitting streak and throwing out five runners at home plate.
The Indians opened the season under manager Dean Treanor (317-258), the sixth manager to pilot the Tribe for five or more seasons.
“The fans will enjoy seeing us play this year,” Rojas said. “We have good pitching, good defense, guys who can steal bases and put the ball out of the park.”
The Tribe returns to Victory Field April 29 to open an eight-game homestand. Call 269-3545 or visit IndyIndians.com for tickets.