ALUMNI NOTEBOOK: Nevada Union grad Josh Roenicke continues baseball journey in Taiwan
June 11, 2018
The life of a pro baseball player is one that logs many miles and takes those who are fortunate enough to live it all over the country and beyond.
Journeyman pitcher Josh Roenicke knows that life well.
The 2001 Nevada Union graduate has been playing baseball professionally since 2006, and in his more than a decade-long career as a pitcher has played pro ball in six different countries on four different continents. His latest journey is by far his longest, as the talented hurler is now in Taiwan, competing in the Chinese Professional Baseball League with the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, also known as the UniLions.
Roenicke continued his impressive season with the UniLions last week with another quality outing.
The 6-foot, 3-inch righty threw six strong innings in a 10-7 win over the Chinatrust Brothers on Friday. Roenicke got the start and allowed just three hits and no runs, while striking out eight. He ended up with a no decision, but his season stats remain among the best in the league. For the year, Roenicke has started 12 games and owns a 7-1 record to go with a 2.04 ERA.
Roenicke started his pro baseball journey in 2006 when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 10th round of the MLB draft. He worked his way into the Majors shortly after and had stints with the Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins from 2008-2013. From 2014-16, Roenicke bounced around multiple minor league teams in the United States before heading to Mexico in 2017.
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Roenicke was all set to spend another season in the Mexican League before the opportunity to play in the Chinese league materialized. After weighing the pros and cons of each league, Roenicke made his decision and packed his bags for Taiwan.
"Well, it was a tough decision actually," Roenicke said in an email. "This offer to play in this league literally came right after I had just negotiated my contract to go play in Mexico again. But I heard being over here in Asia is a better opportunity for me to get to the Japan or Korean league which is where I would like to end up."
FAR FROM HOME
Roenicke said he is enjoying the experience on and off the field.
"The best part of playing here on the field is probably the appreciation the fans have for the game," he said. "Winning or losing, when the home team is at bat it is non-stop noise for all nine innings. It's pretty impressive.
"Off the field, I think it's just experiencing the different culture. Being able to walk around cities like Taipei and just take it all in."
He added the most difficult part of this new journey is being away from his wife, Nikki Roenicke, and three children.
"The toughest part in general by far is being away from my family for so long, and thank goodness for FaceTime," Roenicke said. "I grew up with my dad (former MLB pro Gary Roenicke) playing and he had to deal with this as well, but without the technology we have now. So I couldn't imagine how tough that was. It's just hard now with the age of my kids 'cause, literally, as we speak they are growing and changing and sometimes I feel like I'm missing out, you know. But luckily, I have an amazing wife who is holding down the fort and doing an amazing job. I know it's not easy for either of us, but having God as our backbone helps tremendously."
Things are no cakewalk on the diamond either. Despite his impressive numbers and high level of success this season, Roenicke is tested with every start.
"From the baseball aspect the toughest part on the field is the fact that it is definitely considered a hitter's league," he said. "I heard that a lot before I came over here, and a lot of talk about how juiced the balls are. Fortunately, I have been throwing as good as I have in a long time. But that and the heat are probably the toughest; it's already been around 100 with the heat index every day."
Other obstacles come with playing in a foreign country as well. Roenicke relies on public transportation to get around and an unorthodox meal schedule. And, then there's the language barrier.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
"The language barrier is definitely tough, especially away from the field," he said. "At the field we have a translator but away from that, it's just me and an American teammate on our own trying to use our phones as much as we can. Taipei is a little more Americanized so more people speak English. I'm starting to learn more Chinese though, but just little things like 'thank you,' 'you're welcome,' 'my bad,' 'no problem,' 'I'm tired,' 'it's hot.'"
Despite the language barrier, Roenicke said he has been welcomed by his UniLions teammates.
"I've been getting along with everyone really well so far," Roenicke said. "We have a good mixture of young guys and veterans and a lot of laughs with the fact that we don't understand each other very well. So facial expressions and hand movements are used a lot. But we are now tied for first and having fun as a group. I haven't talked too much with the staff, but our pitching coach is good, pretty laid back but will point something out to me if he sees something."
STARTING SOMETHING NEW
For much of Roenicke's career he's played the role of relief pitcher, usually appearing later in the game for no more than an inning or two. But last season he transitioned to a starting pitcher and at the age of 35, Roenicke is now getting comfortable in his new role.
"Last season was the first time I had ever gone into spring training as a starter and remained a starter throughout the season," Roenicke said. "And that just allowed me to make the necessary adjustments and kind of find myself as a starting pitcher. So I carried that over to this season with the confidence from last season. My command has been much better the last two seasons and I am able to throw any of my pitches in any count, which makes it tough on hitters. I also realized how much better I am throwing to my glove side of the plate, which is inside to a lefty hitter and outside to a righty. That's kind of been my bread and butter."
Roenicke added, "Being a starter now, I think I have definitely gotten better at slowing the game down. As a pitcher when you get in trouble out there and all eyes are on you the game speeds up and anxiety can start creeping in. The last couple seasons I have felt a lot more in control and have done a good job at pitching out of trouble which is huge."
Roenicke has been playing baseball for much of his life and seen many things on the baseball diamond, but the pitcher recently got to be a part of something he never before had.
Roenicke started a triple play to get out of a two-on, no-out jam earlier this season. He snagged a line drive right back at him, then threw to second to get the runner who had taken off for third, then the shortstop completed the triple play by firing to first base to get the runner who had left for second.
"That was huge," he said. "I had never been a part of one and not sure I have ever seen one in person before."
Despite all the travel and the hours away from his family and loved ones, Roenicke remains grateful for the path he's traveled.
"Man, it has been a long and eventful journey," he said. "As I get older and think about it I am just very grateful and blessed to have been able to do this for so long. I always knew from a young age that I wanted to be a professional athlete. I feel like the Lord blessed me with abilities to do so, and He has kept me healthy my entire sports career, which has allowed me to keep going without second-guessing myself.
"I was thinking about it the other day and I have now played professional baseball in six different countries and four different continents, which is pretty amazing. My biggest take away is just the appreciation of it all. The game, the fans, the teammates and lifetime relationships you make, the support of friends and family, and the success and struggles."
LONG ROAD HOME
Roenicke said he won't be returning home until the fall, but is currently enjoying a visit from his wife and kids.
"We would love to get back to Nevada County more often, but it's difficult now flying across the country as a family of five," he said. "That's a special community we have back home and has been a big part of who I am."
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.