2011 Elite Series - Pride of Georgia West Point Lake - LaGrange, GA, May 5 - 8, 2011

Dean Rojas: Chasing the cradle

Don Barone
The Rojas family together at the racetrack.

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay…"

Dateline: LeGrange, GA, West Point Lake

I fell asleep at her soccer game.

Right there in the bleachers.  All the other parents were cheering.

I was snoring.  Serious head nodding.

And I never apologized to my daughter Ashley for it.

I imagine she was horrified.  Or worse.  Much worse.

Ashley was probably used to it.  Normal, for me.

Never apologized.  Every parent is some sort of an embarrassment to their children.  I was a side show.

My friend, Bob Ley, of ESPN/Outside The Lines fame, and I had just flew back on the red-eye from Seattle. We were in Seattle barely a day, if that.

Flew in from the mothership of ESPN in Connecticut, flew to Seattle, rented a car, drove up the coast to the town of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada … we had to drive up the coast to that town because law enforcement told us it might not be safe to just fly straight there.

We were there to confront an NHL player about his alleged ties to the Russian Mob.  And the Russian Mob can be a cranky bunch.

Drove in, slept a couple of hours, went to the rink, did the interview, got in the car, drove back to Seattle and took the red-eye home.

All in about 24 hours.

Ashley knew none of that, she just knew Daddy wasn't there for the first half … didn't care about the fog delay tarmac hold in Detroit.

For years I averaged 100 … 120 days a year on the road, all over the planet.  Leave to go to Atlanta, a few days later fly back home from Los Angeles.  I once sent a postcard home saying Cleveland looked like a nice town.

It was postmarked from Cincinnati.

Chased the news, lost sight of the cradle.  In 12 years of the kids going through school … elementary … middle school … high school … in 12 years of all that I maybe, MAYBE, went to one or two Parents Night.  In our house it was mainly just Parent Night.

And I wasn't the parent that showed up.

I never apologized to my daughter Ashley.

I never apologized to my son Jimmy.

I never apologized to my wife Barb.

I'm not the apologizing kind of guy.

But.

I do so now.

I'm sorry for the lives I missed.  You kids grew up to be pretty cool kids, not because of me, in spite of me.

One day I changed your diapers.

Then, it seemed, I handed you the keys to the car.

I missed much of what was in between.  The mantle has all the awards for all those trips.  My heart has a hole in it for all those days, gone from you.

You survived it, now, as you are older, I only ask of this from you.  When you get married, when you have a family, when you have children.

Don't be like me. 

" … he learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it … "

Be more like Elite Angler, Dean Rojas.

I hadn't had a chance to see my friend Dean since he won the last Elite event over there on Toledo Bend in Many, La.  When he walked into registration yesterday, as soon as we saw each other … big smiles, and a man hug.

I didn't ask him how he won it, what he threw, what his strategy was, I simply asked this, "Dude … the family must have went nuts, huh?"

The family is wife, Renee, and young sons, Cameron and Austin.

"db, it was amazing when I did that fist pump on stage, that 30-second celebration, everything was flowing through my head … it was just victory … VICTORY … I thought of everything we have been through, all the work, all the time away from home … every emotion just … just happened."

As soon as Dean left the stage he was obviously mobbed by the reporters and well-wishers back stage … it wasn't until about 45 minutes later that he got a moment to himself.

As he was walking over to his boat to take the I-won-this and I'm-in-my-boat photos … he stopped and sent a text message to his wife, who was back home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Here's that simple text: "I did it."

And then he told me about something else he did, which is why I apologized to my children.  My family.

They deserved a dad like Dean, but they got me.

" … when you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son … "

"It was an hour and a half before I could talk to Renee … talk to the boys."  But it didn't stop there.  Early next morning, "My friend put me on his helicopter and flew me to his Cessna which flew me to Houston, from there I hopped on a commercial jet and flew to Las Vegas where I rented a car and drove two hours to make it home just in time."

Just in time for … the Indians.

His son's little league team.  Dean did all of that NOT for a game, he did all that to be there for PRACTICE.

And unlike me, he didn't fall asleep. 

"I threw batting practice for an hour or two with my son and the team."

The morning after winning an Elite event, he's pitching batting practice to a team of 9-year-olds.

"It's the only thing I really wanted to do."

Sitting, just the two of us in the back of the room before registration began I asked him if the win had changed his life.  The answer, "No."

"I'll tell you db, the win was huge, but now, with my family, the simpler things in life mean much more to me, spending time with my wife, my sons, that's what's all about … that's the real win."

I chased the news, lost sight of the cradle.

Dean has not.

"You know db, they are only young once."

I didn't know that.  I thought they would be young forever.

I was wrong … I'd give every trophy back to do it all over again.

But I can't.

My children deserved a dad like Dean.

They got me instead. 

If you are reading this, and you are a road warrior, trust me when I say this, be Dean.

Not me.

And no apologies will be needed.

"You know we'll have a good time then."

Cats in the Cradle
Harry Chapin

-- db

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