STONY BROOK ALUM ‘ROCKS’ – AS AUTHOR AND SPORTS AGENT

BY BRIAN PATRICK HARMON

cropped-bph.jpg

He was a sick little boy pressing the hold button on real life.

Burton Rocks, then just 8, was alone on a stage at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center, performing the “Mickey Mouse March” on the piano and savoring a two-hour furlough from the hospital.

“It’s my earliest memory of Stony Brook and I’ll never forget it,” said the New York Times best-selling author who suffered severe childhood asthma before earning a history degree from the university in 1994.

“I was in the hospital that morning. My doctor said he’d release me and that if I didn’t feel well after the recital, he’d wait for me at the hospital,” continued Rocks, now 42. “I played my piece, wheezing the whole time, and finished to the cheers of my proud parents. Then, I went back to the hospital.”

Such was the routine for Rocks, whose chronic condition – he suffered three code blues before he turned 5 – landed him in hospitals throughout his time growing up on Seville Lane in Stony Brook.

At Stony Brook University, Rocks enrolled in the Honors College, where he began to cultivate his writing talents. His thesis project examining the effects of weight training on professional baseball served him well in his career endeavors as a writer and now, as a sports agent representing Major League Baseball managers, coaches, players and broadcasters.

“The Honors College was truly a catalyst for my writing career,” said Rocks, who wrote the 2003 bestseller “Me and My Dad: A Baseball Memoir” with retired New York Yankee Paul O’Neill. “Stony Brook was the perfect fit for me.”rocksoneill

“Hi. I’m Burton Rocks”

Jim Riggleman was the bench coach for the Washington Nationals and on a road trip in New York in 2009 when he received his first Burton Rocks call.

“I was sitting in my hotel room when he called to introduce himself,” Riggleman said. “He told me he knew people in broadcasting and that if I was interested in changing my career, he could represent me. You got to be thick-skinned to call out of the blue like that.”

The following summer, Rocks dialed up Riggleman again in his New York City hotel room.

“This time we were in town to play the Mets and I had become the Nationals’ interim manager,” Riggleman, 62, said. “A few months later, when the Nationals wanted to hire me as their permanent manager, I hired Burton and he negotiated an attractive contract for me.”

Rocks, who earned a law degree in 1997, scored his first big break in writing in 1999 when he collaborated with Clyde King, the longtime trusted baseball advisor to legendary New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, to co-author “A King’s Legacy: The Clyde King Story.”

He ventured away from sports in 2005, teaming with “Odd Couple” actor and sports fanatic Jack Klugman on “Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.” It was Klugman’s tribute to his co-star, the late Tony Randall.

By the time Rocks had turned the page on his writing career and had committed to solely being a sports agent in 2007, Rocks had written eight books.

“Players who signed on with me said ‘If you were good enough to be Paul O’Neill’s teammate in writing his book, then you’re good enough to be on my team as an agent,’” said Rocks, recently hired as an adjunct business professor at Stony Brook.

Rocks will teach Business 391 – Management of Sports Organizations on Monday and Wednesday afternoons this fall.

“A good heart and spirit”

Retired Cincinnati Reds catcher Joe Oliver said it was Rocks’ “go get ’em’” attitude that sold him on the agent.

“He has a very positive outlook and a good heart and spirit,” added Oliver, 49, who Rocks helped get back into baseball as a minor league baseball manager after being away from baseball for over a decade.

Norma King, wife of the late Clyde King, praised Rocks for his perseverance. The Kings were close friends with Rocks’ parents and witnessed Burton Rocks’ struggle with asthma. As a favor to Rocks’ father, King gave Rocks an informal pitching tryout at King’s home in North Carolina while Rocks was in law school in 1995.

“Clyde always said ‘When one door closes, another door opens.’ Burton is living proof of that expression,” she said. “He threw for Clyde here (in Goldsboro, North Carolina). But his health precluded him from playing professionally. When that door closed, he turned to writing.”

Rocks credits his mother Marlene, a retired New York City schools Spanish teacher who serves as a translator for Rocks’ Spanish-speaking clients, and his father Lawrence, an acclaimed chemist and author of the 1973 tome “The Energy Crisis,” for helping inspire his success.

“It was very unique to see an agent show up with his mother,” said Todd Hankins, 24, a Cleveland Indians prospect who Rocks helped land a six-figure signing bonus in 2011. “Burton isn’t just worried about me making it to the big leagues and making money. He actually cares about me and my family.”

Staying Connected With Stony Brook

These days, Rocks enjoys visiting his alma mater, particularly for basketball games at Stony Brook’s new Island Federal Credit Union Arena.rocksbasketball

“I love attending the basketball games as an alum,” said Rocks, who brings his mother to some contests. “Seeing what (Stony Brook men’s basketball coach) Steve Pikiell and the basketball team have done to revitalize school spirit at Stony Brook is incredible.”

Rocks equated the jubilant atmosphere at the arena – including the “see of red” in the stands – to “a mini Madison Square Garden.”

“Seeing that would make any alum feel proud,” he added.

Rocks wants his story to inspire other Stony Brook alums and students in pursuit of their career dreams.

“I tell students that the road to being a sports agent can start many different ways and take many different turns,” he said. “My advice is to make yourself as unique as possible and to not let anybody discourage you. If you want to do something and have a passion for it, keep at it. Don’t get discouraged.”

Photo Credits: Feature photo, John Griffin. Secondary photo, Steve Pikiell twitter.

Story originally published at stonybrook.edu on March 4, 2015

Royals Run Recalls Memories of Rooting Against the Dreaded New York Yankees

BY BRIAN PATRICK HARMON

Their center fielder introduced me to the beauty of an inside-the-park home run. Their submarine closer seemed to scrape his knuckles on the mound with every pitch. And one of their shortstops played with a toothpick dangling from his mouth.

They were the Kansas City Royals of the late 1970s and early 1980s, a talented and character-laden team that hit, ran and pitched their way to six division crowns in a 10-year span, ultimately winning the franchise’s first World Series in 1985.

Often, these Royals were the last team standing in the way of yet another World Series appearance for the New York Yankees. And as such, in my family, they were a team worth rooting for.

It was a drag being a young diehard New York Mets fan during the Carter Administration – back when Joe Torre was cutting his eventual Hall of Fame skipper’s teeth as the Amazins’ manager. For seven consecutive seasons, the Mets finished last or next-to-last in the National League East.

So come October – certainly if I wanted to stay in the good graces of my grandfather – the team to pull for was whichever team was facing the Yankees in the playoffs.

It certainly didn’t seem like such a good idea in 1976. That was when I watched with my little mouth agape as Yankees first-baseman Chris Chambliss slugged a walk-off homer in the decisive Game 5 win over the Royals in the American League Championship and somehow made it around the bases in spite of the thousands of frenzied fans that had stormed the field at Yankee Stadium.

It didn’t get better in 1977 or 1978. The Yankees eliminated the Royals in the playoffs those seasons too. Kansas City finally defeated the Yankees in a playoff series in 1980 and reached its first World Series.

So embarrassed by the loss was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner that he fired his manager Dick Howser, even after the team won 103 games during the regular season. Stuff like that made it easy to root against the Yanks.

A bit of irony: Howser managed Kansas City when they defeated cross-state rival St. Louis in the 1985 World Series.

I certainly hadn’t given those Royals teams much thought over the last three decades, not with the Royals holding court at the bottom of the American League standings season after season. But the team’s rocket ride through the playoffs this season got me thinking about the players on those consistently good Royals teams.

At the top of the list is Willie Wilson, the Royals fleet-footed center fielder from 1977 to 1986, whose blinding speed turned some games into track meets. I still see him in my mind lacing one in the gap at the then-Royals Stadium and whirling around the bases for a game-winning inside-the-park home run in an extra-inning game with the Yankees. He hit a total of 13 inside-the-park homers.

It’s easy to recall watching reliever Dan Quisenberry – the perennial Rolaids Relief Man in the American League – closing win after win with his submarine delivery.

U.L. Washington was the Royals shortstop who played with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth at the plate and in the field. He switched to a Q-tip when parents of youth players complained.

But who can forget that? I still have baseball cards with U.L. slyly grinning and chomping on a toothpick.

I challenged myself to remember the regulars from the 1976 team. I came up with seven of the nine regulars and managed to accurately name four starting pitchers, Paul Splitorff, Dennis Leonard, Doug Bird and Andy Hassler.

I thought for sure that Darrell Porter was the Royals catcher that season, but my research at mlb.com revealed he didn’t arrive in Kansas City until 1977. As it turned out, Buck Martinez and Bob Stinson shared time behind the plate in 1976.

Right field was the only other gap in my memory for the starters on that 1976 team. Al Cowens, who finished second in voting for the American League MVP award in 1977 was Kansas City’s regular right fielder from 1974 to 1979. Missing his name smarted.

Of course, it was easy to remember George Brett — who hit .390 in 1980 and seemed to win the American League batting title every year Twins and Angels star Rod Carew didn’t — being the heart and soul of the team. He was Kansas City’s third-baseman for 21 seasons.

The 1976 team was solid up the middle with center fielder Amos Otis; shortstop Freddie Patek, who standing 5-foot-five was the shortest player of his time; and longtime Royals second-baseman Frank White.

Big John Mayberry was the slugging first-baseman, Hal McRae was the clutch-hitting DH and Tom Poquette was the journey-man leftfielder for the 1976 squad.

Brett, White, McRae and Wilson, who played sparingly as a rookie in 1976, were still key contributors on the 1985 team that won it all.

Here’s hoping their re-appearance in the World Series this year is an omen of things to come in the 2015 season for my Mets, who won the World Series in 1986.