Miguel Rojas was one sad Marlin on Friday.
He showed up at Marlins Park wiping tears from his face and found himself crying between innings.
“Yesterday was a tough day for me,” Rojas said. “I had a really tough time. I was feeling like a part of me was missing.”
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There had been a death in the Rojas family.
His beloved 12-year-old dog Almudena -- an Old English Sheepdog who was named for a Spanish princess -- had to be put down Friday morning.
The reason: Rojas said she had a cancerous growth on her muzzle.
Former Marlins hitting coach Bill Robinson was always fond of saying that when a player was in a prolonged hitting slump, the only ones who loved him were his mother and his dog. And that was the case with Rojas.
Almudena used to always greet Rojas at the front door when he returned home after games. Good games and bad, she was always there waiting for him.
“I loved her like she was my daughter, like she was my first baby,” said Rojas, who is married with one child. “She was really important in my life, and she changed me because I didn’t like animals before. I didn’t like dogs at all because I was scared of them.”
Almudena changed all that.
Rojas said the dog had belonged to his wife, Mariana, when they married. It wasn’t long before Rojas and the dog bonded.
“I really started understanding the importance of animals and the love that they can give a human being,” Rojas said.
And that’s why Friday proved so difficult for Rojas.
“My son kept asking where the dog was,” Rojas said. “It was a really sad day for us as a family.”
Rojas eventually had to go to work, had to go put on his uniform and play shortstop and try to help the Marlins win a game against the New York Mets. But all he could think about was the dog.
Whenever Rojas takes up his position in the top of the first, his first order of business is to write the names of the his grandmother and son in the infield dirt.
“Yesterday I just wrote my dog’s name,” he said.
Rojas played through tears.
“Coming into the ballpark, I was in tears,” he said. “I was crying during the game. When I went to the bathroom a couple of times (between innings), I texted my wife to see how she was doing. My wife, she’s in really deep pain.”
Rojas went hitless in his first two at bats. But when he came up in the seventh, he hit a Zach Wheeler pitch into the Clevelander for a two-run homer -- the only runs of the game for the Marlins in their 6-2 loss.
“After I hit the homer, I was thinking about her, and I was thinking about all the memories we had together,” Rojas said. “I never do this, but after that inning I came in and texted my wife and told her the home run was for (Almudena). It was special I hit a home run and bring a little bit of comfort and happiness to our day.”
After returning home, Rojas penned a Tweet dedicating his home run to the dog he loved so much.
Rojas said there are no plans to get another dog. Not now. Not this soon.
But he said he intends to set up a charity to provide donations -- in Almudena’s honor -- to animal shelters in the Miami area.
“I’m thinking about a poker tournament in the off-season and a softball charity game, and we’re going to donate that money to the shelters so they can take care of the dogs,” Rojas said. “I feel like I have a little bit more knowledge of animals and how to preserve them and to help them.”
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