Many of us have seen that guy with a mohawk and goofy grin permanently plastered on his face riding through campus on a bright yellow moped. Ever wonder who that guy is? Let me enlighten you. He is Travis Rooke-Ley PZ ’12, the Sagehens’ ace pitcher, or as his teammates like to call him, “The Big Dog.” Rooke-Ley definitely has plenty of reason to be as confident as he acts. He has started out the year 4-0 with a 1.10 ERA, managing to fill the big shoes left by three-year ace pitcher and Mariners draftee, David Colvin PZ ’11.
For Rooke-Ley it was not always all about baseball, though. In his early years, Rooke-Ley actually preferred basketball over baseball. When he reached high school, however, baseball emerged as his favorite sport. But even while playing baseball, it was not all about pitching at first.
During baseball season, he played in center field in between starts. He loved playing in the outfield, but the mound was where he felt most at home.
“I love the feeling of being in control of the game,” Rooke-Ley said. “I love the individuality of pitching and knowing that the game rides on my shoulders.”
Having earned all-league accolades for baseball and basketball in high school, Rooke-Ley originally intended on playing both varsity sports for the Sagehens. Upon arriving at Pitzer, however, he quickly realized that playing baseball in sunny southern California is a lot different than playing baseball in rainy Eugene, OR, his hometown.
“When I realized how early baseball started down here because of the weather, I decided I wanted to focus all my efforts on that,” Rooke-Ley said. “Baseball is a lot more of a year-round sport here.”
Because of a high school shoulder injury, Rooke-Ley assumed he would spend most of his college career playing center field (he was a two-time Gold Glove winner in high school). Despite his love for pitching, Rooke-Ley had just as much fun fielding.
“I love tracking down balls in the outfield,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite feelings.”
His freshman and sophomore years, that is exactly what he did. Playing mostly in the outfield also allowed Rooke-Ley to focus on hitting. In his first two seasons as a Sagehen, his hitting improved significantly; he finished his sophomore season with a .339 batting average and 22 RBIs. He also had a few opportunities to pitch from the bullpen as his shoulder continued to heal. After showing a lot of promise as a relief pitcher, Rooke-Ley was called up as the number two starting pitcher his junior year.
“[Being a starting pitcher] made the balance between hitting and pitching a lot harder for me,” Rooke-Ley said. “I struggled at the plate all year.”
After spending his junior season trying to juggle the two very different components of baseball, Rooke-Ley headed to the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League for the summer, unsure of whether he would pursue pitching or hitting. Unfortunately, he did not get to make the choice for himself: his first week in Hawaii, he tore his left rotator cuff, disabling him from hitting.
“That was kind of the nail in the coffin for me, hitting-wise,” Rooke-Ley said.
Being a right-handed pitcher, however, Rooke-Ley could still play on the mound.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” he added. “I got to focus specifically on pitching for the first time, give it all my attention and not have to worry about being two places at once.”
Pitching against many Division I players in Hawaii allowed Rooke-Ley to work on his slider and develop into a more complete pitcher. His improvement came with perfect timing for the Sagehens. Colvin’s departure left a big void in the pitching staff, and the team needed someone to step up and fill his three-year tenure.
“Since my freshman year, Colvin has been our number one pitcher,” Rooke-Ley said. “It’s a really important position to be a staff ace. You’re facing the other team’s ace every Friday and setting the tone for the weekend.”
So far this season, Rooke-Ley has done just that. He is currently 4-0, including a complete game shutout against Cal Lutheran this past weekend. Furthermore, he has emerged as a big leader for the Sagehens.
High school and college teammate Peter Klingman PZ ’13 is impressed with Rooke-Ley’s performance and leadership.
“So far he’s filled Colvin’s shoes well,” Klingman said. “Travis isn’t a ‘rah rah’ guy, he’s more of a lead-by-example guy, but anyone who goes out there and does that much for his team will be looked at as a leader.”
Rooke-Ley hopes to take his team to a SCIAC championship this year. The Sagehens won in the SCIAC his freshman and sophomore years, sending the team to regionals in Linfield, OR.
“Going up to Linfield again and playing in front of my family and close friends would be a great way to end,” Rooke-Ley said.
In the meantime, Rooke-Ley is looking ahead to the next game.