|Aguascalientes Rieleros manager Homar Rojas|
Cobbling teams together from shoestring budgets is nothing new to Rojas, who learned to make do in eleven previous seasons at the helm of LMB franchises in Oaxaca, Reynosa, Campeche and Monclova, where he went 188-145 with three playoff berths (including a 2015 Serie del Rey appearance) for the Acereros between 2014 and 2016. New owner Gerardo Bustamante, who bought the team last winter, decided he could find a manager who'd improve Monclova's 2016 record of 69-43 and brought in Wally Backman, who lasted 42 games before being fired.
Rojas, for his part, landed on his feel in Aguascalientes in February after also getting axed from his winter job as skipper with the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros when the 15-19 first-half record the Guadalajara team posted was deemed insufficient. The Rieleros roster had little to recommend going into the 2017 season, although they did have BBM's 2016 Summer Batter of the Year, infielder Diory Hernandez, who was coming off a .319/23/97 season during which he led the Liga in RBIs. Aguascalientes was sixth in the LMB North with a 53-58 record, ending the season under interim player-manager Saul Soto (who returned to his player-only role this year). The Rieleros had some good hitters but a suspect pitching staff going into their 2017 schedule under Rojas.
The Nuevo Leon native oversaw a few changes in his lineup, including the surprising early-season release of Hernandez, and struck gold by inserting indy ball infielder Jose Vargas, LMB veteran outfielder Dave Sappelt into the Rieleros' everyday lineup while adding onetime Rockies hurler Yohan Flande and ex-Dodgers farmhand Roy Merritt to his starting rotation and installing onetime MLB reliever Jose Valverde as his closer. The result was a plucky team that punched above its weight, especially in the second half of the season, and improved their record 11.5 games over 2016 while establishing themselves as a very scary fourth-place team that none of the three teams finishing ahead of them (Tijuana, Monterrey and Monclova) wanted to draw as a playoff opponent. Attendance in Aguascalientes also improved, as the Rieleros averaged 3,572 at 70-year-old Parque Alberto Romo Chavez, an increase of 19 percent over 2016's turnstile count.
After the Rieleros were eliminated by Tijuana, the 53-year-old Rojas (who managed LMP pennant-winners with Obregon in 2007-08 and Hermosillo in 2009-10) looked back upon the unexpected success of Aguascalientes and lauded his players' attitude and desire during games: "The only thing I've heard are good things about this team, and it was the players who did that, "he told El Clarinete of Aguascalientes. "I'm congratulating them in the media but I already did that in person in Tijuana, where I took away some important things from them. I was very satisfied with all their work."
So were we, and that was due to Rojas' steady, calm hand at the Rieleros' helm. The former catcher now has a twelve-year career LMB managerial mark of 703-646. This was not a hard choice to make.
BBM MANAGER OF THE YEAR AWARDS
Summer 2010 Eddie Diaz, Oaxaca
Winter 2010-11 Matias Carrillo, Guasave
Summer 2011 Daniel Fernandez, Veracruz
Winter 2015-16 Edgar Gonzalez, Mexicali
Summer 2016 Willie Romero, Yucatan
Winter 2016-17 Luis Sojo, Los Mochis
Summer 2017 Homar Rojas, Aguascalientes