In the summer of 1985, Rod Tafoya fell in love with Wichita.
“I was young, playing the game I love and pitching in the NBC World Series,” Tafoya said. “Greg Swindell was the big star that year, and he was pitching for the Liberal Bee Jays … it was just such a wonderful time for me and I just became enamored with this city.
“It was always my goal to come back one day.”
That day has come.
Tafoya, who pitched his final college season at Newman in 1986, will be the starting pitcher for the Houston Tuzos on Sunday at 4 p.m. against the San Diego Waves.
Tafoya is 49 and has been pitching — wherever they’ll have him — his entire adult life. He even wrote a book about it last year called “Ageless Arm: My Passion Lives in the Core” and has a website: www.agelessarm.com.
For his full-time job, Tafoya is a vice president for Bank of the West in Albuquerque. He’s never had arm surgery and has three pitches — a fastball he throws with the seams and across the seams, slider and a change-up.
He’s won almost 300 games in his career pitching in independent leagues and men’s adult leagues all over the country, in Mexico and Puerto Rico. His professional high point came pitching in the Mexican pro leagues out of college, where he bounced back and forth between the AAA and AA levels for a few seasons.
“It’s pretty simple how I’ve kept going,” Tafoya said. “It’s because I love baseball. I love to pitch.”
The Tuzos won their opener on Friday, beating the Denver Cougars 4-3. Their player/coach, Lou Lujan, was scouting the Pecos League — an independent pro league in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado — looking for a pitcher for the NBC by tracking box scores of games on July 20.
Tafoya, pitching for the Taos Blizzard, caught Lujan’s eye after pitching seven innings while giving up seven hits, no earned runs, no walks and striking out nine in a no-decision against the Fuego. Tafoya pitched for the Fuego last year, their first in the Pecos League, when they were featured in an article by Abe Streep in The Atavist called “The Legends of Last Place: A Season With America’s Worst Professional Baseball Team.”
“I called the league and told them this was the guy we wanted and started to do some research,” Lujan said. “I didn’t know he was that old until later, but I really didn’t care. I just needed a pitcher. When I called and asked him to play in the NBC the first thing he told me was that he’s always wanted to come back and pitch in Wichita.”
Tafoya said he’s been campaigning with NBC officials to help him get a spot on a team for the last nine years with no luck.
“If I’m still striking people out, I still deserve a shot,” Tafoya said. “It’s a privilege to be back in the NBC … 28 years later and I’m finally back. I’m elated.”