The Pawtucket Red Sox game against Rochester is still two hours away, yet there are kids everywhere. The parking lots are filling with school buses.
McCoy Stadium draws plenty of kids for every Pawtucket Red Sox game. But why two hours before game time on a weekday morning? Augusto “Cookie” Rojas Jr., the PawSox general sales manager, smiles when someone asks.
“It’s part of our Baseball in Education program,” Rojas explains. “It’s something we started four years ago and had 50 kids involved. Today we have 1,400.”
The program is the latest in what seems to be the team’s never-ending involvement with the community. Rojas is the man behind it. He organized it based on experiences he had with his own kids.
“I have kids in school. They go on field trips sometimes,” Rojas said. “I thought, ‘There has to be a way for us to offer something here’ … I started tinkering around and talking to some of my friends in baseball and I came up with this idea.
“I ran it past Mike (Tamburro, the team president) and Lou (Schwechheimer, the vice president general manager) and they said go with it, run with it.”
Rojas was told that any field trips students take must be educational. So he went to one of the state’s training grounds for teachers, Rhode Island College.
“We have great partners at Rhode Island College. They’ve helped us develop a curriculum that meets all the educational guidelines. They made it a project for their seniors, their student-teachers,” Rojas related.
The educational aspect is why all the students were there so early.
On the first-base side, junior high students from Middletown were being timed throwing baseballs. They were then given a sheet in which they could calculate how fast they were throwing the ball.
On the third-base side, a large group of students from Winman Junior High in Warwick was listening to a presentation on the longest game in baseball history and doing it directly in front of the display that honors the 33-inning game against Rochester (which also was the opponent Thursday) in 1981.
With the help of the teachers and professors at RIC, components were drawn up not only in math and history, but also with social studies and science. Once students were seated, the video board in right field showed videos on the science of baseball, explaining how a ball flies and proper fielding techniques.
The program took a major leap forward this year because of another agreement Rojas worked out. In the first three years he ran the program, a number of schools expressed interest in participating, but had to decline because of costs.
“It is very expensive to get buses,” Rojas noted. “The First Student bus company has become a sponsor this year. They really cut their prices for us.”
The event Thursday was the second of two such days this year. Students from North Kingstown, Warwick, Middletown, Cranston, Providence (the first time a Providence school has participated) and Franklin, Mass., were among those taking part.
The educational aspect did not stop once the game began. Rojas loves keeping score at games. Minute Man Press has joined the program. Students are given booklets that contain educational material, including trivia questions. And there is a section that teaches students how to keep a scorebook.
“It’s been a labor of love. It’s a great joy for me,” Rojas said.
He received a special bonus late in the game.
“I have a daughter (Madison) who is an eighth-grader. Her school was the first one here today. She sent me a text saying, ‘It was awesome, dad. I have fun.’ ”
Carolyn Higgins, who was with fellow Winman teacher Norm Bouthillier, said there was only one problem.
“It’s really nice what they do,” she said. “The only part that could be better is the weather. We came last year, too, and the weather was bad then, too.”
This article by Paul Kenyon originally appeared on the official website of the Providence Journal. Click here to view the original story.