Legend in the Making: N.Y. Mets Pick Pitcher Kumar Rocker at No. 10 in Major League Baseball Draft
- His mother Lalitha’s hard work, traveling with Kumar to hundreds of ball games, paid off when the Vanderbilt University player signed with the Mets for $6 million.
Vanderbilt University pitcher, Kumar Rocker, who was at one time considered in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and was regarded as the No. 6 draft prospect on MLB.com, fell to the New York Mets at No. 10 in the MLB draft July 11 night. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-hander, who is about to turn 20 in November, signed with the Mets for $6 million. The slot value for the No. 10 overall pick was $4.74 million. In a coup of sorts, Rocker, essentially, signed for more than $1 million compared to what others at that spot in the draft would have, as noted by nesn.com. “It was about a war to get him down [to 10th] because we felt the Mets were a good pick for him and a good environment,” Scott Boras, Rocker’s agent, told The New York Post. “The Mets have a strong flavor for him.”
Athlete royalty, Rocker, is the son of the Eagles’ first-year defensive line coach Tracy Quinton Rocker, and Lalitha “Lu” Rocker, who is originally from India — her parents having immigrated to the U.S. from India, making them a “Blindian” couple. A two-time All-American and a three-time All-SEC selection while playing at Auburn, Tracy Rocker was selected in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and played professionally (defensive tackle) for them for two seasons before transitioning to coaching. Tracy Kumar was the first Southeastern Conference player to win both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy at Auburn before his four seasons in the NFL.
According to ESPN, Kumar’s parents met when his mother was a student at the University of Maryland and his father was playing for the Washington Redskins. A family of sportsmen, according to the Mets Draft profile, Kumar’s uncle, David Deaundra Rocker, too played at Auburn and played professionally for the Los Angeles Rams for four years.
And mother Lalitha is no stranger to sports either. The Baltimore native grew up a hard-core Orioles fan. And it was she, who traveled with Kumar to his hundreds of ball games, with papa Tracy on the road more often than not. She told ESPN, that her husband hasn’t been able to sit with her on a regular basis until these recent Vandy days, and still plays second fiddle to the TV cutaways of her celebrating yet another milestone of Kumar.
And like father, like son. Kumar, a second-generation athlete, played defensive end, tight end, and quarterback at North Oconee High School in Bogart, Georgia, before the love for baseball outweighed football. “I thought he was a very good football player, I wish he would have played for me, but I mean, he chose the right sport for him and I’m proud of him,” said proud papa and Atlanta, Georgia native, Tracy Rocker, to Eagle Maven. He added: “He likes balls, I don’t care what kind of ball it is, I’m a ball junkie.” He told ESPN that the goal was never to push his son into football, even if he was built for it from birth. Instead, he and his wife, Lalitha, signed Kumar up for everything — football, basketball, tennis, soccer (“hated it”), lacrosse (“loved it”), and all in between. “He would become obsessed with whatever he had his eye on at the moment, perfecting it,” Tracy Rocker told ESPN.
“The first time he got a bike, he rode laps in the garage until he felt comfortable enough to take the training wheels off. Only then was he ready to join his friends in the street. Skateboarding, practicing how to throw a baseball, or how to catch a football, it always happened at 6 in the morning in the garage,” Tracy recalls about the dedicated athlete. “We would go down there, and stuff is banging in the garage, so we’re thinking, ‘who’s in the garage?’ You know, we think an animal has gotten in the garage, but it’s him out there practicing.”
Kumar played both football and baseball when he enrolled at North Oconee High School, but according to his Mets Draft profile, he stopped playing football, which he lettered in twice, completely by his junior year of high school. By then, his skill as a pitcher really began shining through. He entered high school with a fastball that touched the high-80s and it continued improving and improving and improving, and by the time he began focusing only on baseball, the pitch sat in the low-to-mid-90s and regularly touched the high-90s. And although Kumar chose baseball, not part of the Rocker family sports legacy, he told ESPN that he draws on the knowledge and inspiration he garnered during a childhood spent on SEC and NFL sidelines and in locker rooms.
That doesn’t mean the decision was easy for the teenager, whose mother chose his first name to honor her Indian roots and as a reminder that he comes from two cultures. Lalitha Rocker told USA Today that her son kept his high school football helmet on the nightstand for months until he had to return it. She said Kumar was told to stop throwing rocks because he always hit his targets, and both she and her husband noticed how different Kumar became on the mound — even as early as travel ball and Little League.
In baseball, Kumar had found a home. “He had a calmness about him,” Tracy Rocker told USA Today. “He didn’t react to anything. He just pitched. He did it again, and my wife kept saying, ‘he’s going to be a pitcher’…. I’m like, ‘no, he’s going to be a football player because everybody’s played football.’”
Kumar further told USA Today, “I was called ‘Coach Rock’s kid’ a lot because of my name. And then I think my dad and mom saw what baseball had in store for me, and they were fine with that. In fact, my mom enjoyed driving me to the tournaments around the summer and all that.”
As a high school junior in 2017, Kumar had a 1.63 earned run average (ERA) with 68 strikeouts in 55 2⁄3 innings, according to Wikipedia. In 2017, he played in the Under Armor All-America Baseball Game and Perfect Game All-American Classic. Later that same summer, he played for the USA Baseball 18U National Team. By the end of the 2018 baseball season, the right-hander was considered not only one of the best prep pitchers available in the 2018 MLB Draft but one of the best players available, period. Colorado had picked Rocker in the 38th round in 2018, but Rocker decided to attend Vanderbilt out of high school rather than sign a major league deal.
In fact, according to an interview on ESPN, it was mom, Lalitha Rocker, who convinced him to go to college and get an education. “Education has always been a huge part of our culture, and it’s important for Kumar,” she told The Tennessean, adding, “it’s a no brainer for me. At the end of the day, it was his decision. But I’m happy he went to school.”
Rocker told the Tennessean that in his “gut,” he just needed his mom “to be happy with his decision,” wondering if that makes him a mama’s boy. “But I couldn’t go into pro ball thinking that she was not OK with it.”
Appearing in 19 games for the Vanderbilt Commodores and starting 16 of them, Kumar posted a 3.25 ERA in 99.2 innings, allowing 88 hits, walking 21, and striking out 114. His first few appearances in the NCAA were not bad per se, but he really started gaining momentum in his second half, posting a 2.17 ERA in his last 11 starts, striking out 82 in 70.2 innings. Kumar’s dominance continued into the NCAA tournament – a big reason Vanderbilt won the 2019 College World Series – and on June 8, Rocker made history. Pitching against Duke, he became the first pitcher in NCAA history to throw a no-hitter in the Super Regional round of the 2019 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, striking out 19 batters in the Commodores’ 3-0 victory. He followed this up with another record – recording 11 strikeouts in 6.1 innings in the College World Series finals against Michigan, setting Vanderbilt up to win its second national championship. He was also named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, reported Baseball America.
According to ESPN, Rocker, who was born in Montgomery Alabama, moved through seven states as a kid (his father’s coaching career taking the family from town to town). The longest stay was seven years in Arkansas; the shortest was 11 months in Oxford, Mississippi. “Moving definitely made me the person I am today,” Rocker was quoted as saying. “It showed me how people act and go about their business. I took a little from each person in each of those seven states and put it in myself.” Congratulations are pouring in for Kumar.
Mom Lalitha Rocker took to social media to post her thanks with a video of her son donning the coveted Mets cap.
The legend of Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker has only just begun.