There are certain sounds associated with baseball — the crack of a wooden bat, the pop of a catcher’s mitt and an umpire yelling “Play ball!”
But for Miami baseball, the soundtrack of the sport begins and ends with the booming voice of Jay Rokeach.
For nearly a half-century, Rokeach — or “JayRo” as he is commonly known — has been the in-stadium announcer at Miami Hurricanes baseball games, bridging two incredible eras of success between the late coach Ron Fraser and current boss Jim Morris.
Rokeach, 64, works hundreds of events a year, from high school and college baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer all the way up to professional games and high-end auctions. He has even introduced people at weddings.
But this is his 48th season doing Hurricanes baseball — that’s where his career began and where he is most well-known.
“He means just about everything to Miami baseball,” said Rick Remmert, a long-time friend and the director of athletic alumni programs at the University of Miami. “He goes back 48 years, which is extraordinary. He represents everything good about the program.”
There are few people, if any, who know more about the history of Hurricanes baseball than Rokeach, who has lived it over the past five decades.
But while Rokeach is professional and knowledgeable, he also brings a certain flair to his craft.
There are numerous players, such as Jose Trujillo and Julio Solis, both of whom graduated long ago, who became famous at Mark Light Stadium merely because of the way Rokeach said their names.
Trujillo, for example, became Jose Tru-jiiiiiiilo!
“Players would come up to Jay and ask him if he could do something special with their name,” said John Routh, who gained fame at Mark Light Stadium as the “Miami Maniac” mascot from 1983 to 1993.
“Jay can be reverent when needed such as he was for Coach Fraser’s last game. But he can also be that Harry Caray ‘Let’s have fun at the ballpark’ guy.
“Three generations of fans have grown up listening to Jay. People have told me that hearing Jay’s voice brings them back to their childhood.”
Rokeach’s own childhood was spent in Brooklyn. He grew up a Dodgers fan and loved to listen to Vin Scully do play-by-play on the radio.
As a freshman at Brooklyn’s Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, Rokeach began doing announcements.
He was a mean stickball player in his neighborhood, but he quickly realized he had a better chance at making a living with a microphone in his hands as opposed to a bat.
Rokeach applied to three out-of-state universities — Arizona State, Miami and Florida State — and was accepted at the first two. He chose Miami because it was closer to home.
As a freshman in the fall of 1968, Rokeach, knowing the UM’s men’s basketball team was due to take road trips to Hawaii and California that season, visited then-coach Ron Godfrey to see if he needed a team manager.
As it turns out, Godfrey did not need a manager. Rokeach, on the way back to his dorm, passed by the baseball field and decided to ask the same question to Fraser, who said yes.
That next spring, in 1969, became Rokeach’s first of what has become a legendary career on the microphone.
“It was a different time,” Rokeach said of his humble start. “There were no lights at the stadium. All our games were played in the afternoon, and the crowds were not big.”
That would soon change, however, largely because of Fraser, who was considered a promotional genius.
Fraser put together an outstanding team that included Rokeach as the voice of the stadium, Remmert as his marketing man and Routh as the on-field mascot/clown/actor, the Miami Maniac.
Routh said Rokeach had an impeccable sense of timing and knew how to read what he was doing on the field and add just the right thing to say on the mike to make his skits work.
PROGRAM TAKES OFF
Pretty soon, the crowds grew — this was long before Miami had major-league baseball with the Marlins — and the team got better.
Miami made its first NCAA Tournament in 1971. In 1973, the Canes started an NCAA record streak of 43 consecutive seasons making the NCAA Tournament, a run that still stands.
And as that streak was still in its infancy, Miami gained a reputation for being an extremely difficult place to play — not just because the team was good but also because of the environment Fraser created.
Things are much more corporate now, but, in those days, the Miami Maniac, with Rokeach as his alter ego, would get under the skin of opponents — especially pitchers.
“Our press box back then was directly over the visitors’ dugout,” Rokeach said. “We had a 10-foot pole with a hook at the end of it, and when a pitcher was removed from the game, I would stick the pole out of the press-box window to signify he was ‘getting the hook.’
“I remember one time, Marty Barrett, who played for Arizona State at the time, got so mad, he said to me, ‘We are going to kick your (butt).’”
That never happened, of course.
As beloved as Rokeach is at Mark Light, Barrett would have probably had to fight 3,000 UM fans before he could get to JayRo.
The Canes, meanwhile, have gone on to win their sport’s ultimate prize, the College World Series, four times — in 1982, 1985, 1999 and 2001.
But Rokeach said his biggest thrill came in 1997, when he was the announcer for the Marlins when they won their first World Series, beating the visiting Cleveland Indians in a classic Game 7.
In the 11th inning of the deciding game, Edgar Renteria drove in Craig Counsell with the winning run — perhaps the most dramatic “walk-off” win in the history of Miami sports.
And Rokeach was there to speak to the massive crowd.
When asked about what he said at that moment, Rokeach, ever the professional, re-created how it went down.
“I probably said, ‘The Florida Marlins are your 1997 World Series champions!” Rokeach said. “But it really wouldn’t have mattered what I said. The visuals at that moment said it all.”
Perhaps, but having the Jay Rokeach Soundtrack never hurt.