NEW YORK – Amidst the ongoing World Cup cricket mania in England, with India’s hopes riding high on stars like Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, it’s easy enough to forget that other sports are also being played, and Indian-origin sports persons are carving a niche for themselves, in different arenas, across America.
If Bumrah is the darling of the Indian fans, nemesis of other teams, with his terrific accuracy, speed and variations in delivering a cricket ball, the same can be said of star pitcher Kumar Rocker in the baseball arena, who’s been named ‘2019 Baseball America Freshman Of The Year’.
The Indian American-origin Rocker – whose mother Lalitha is originally from India, and father Tracy, an African American, a former NFL defensive tackle who played for four years with the Washington Redskins and who is now an assistant football coach at Tennessee – is being touted as one of the best pitchers produced in college baseball.
Rocker, all of 6-foot-4, and 255 pounds, with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, joined Vanderbilt last Fall ranked No. 13 on the 2018 BA 500 and was the highest ranked player to make it to campus, not only last fall, but in the rankings’ history, reported ESPN in a story titled ‘The legend of Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker has just begun’.
Rocker, who will turn 20 this November, had an outstanding year, with superlative performances, culminating in the College World Series finals, last month, where he struck out 11 batters in 6.1 innings against Michigan, setting Vanderbilt up to win its second national championship. He was also named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, reported Baseball America.
Rocker’s specialty is that he steps up when the stakes are high and pressure immense. Facing elimination against Duke in the Nashville Super Regional, Rocker delivered the best performance, not only of his season, but of any pitcher in college baseball this spring, reported Baseball America. He threw the first no-hitter ever in super regionals and struck out 19 batters, a truly dominant performance. He did it again in the College World Series finals, striking out 11 batters in 6.1 innings against Michigan.
This is what Baseball America said about Rocker’s specialty: ‘Rocker has an overpowering fastball that routinely reaches the upper 90s. His slider is a devastating pitch and he used it for all 19 of his strikeouts against Duke. He’s still working on his changeup, but it’s in his arsenal when he needs it. And he pounds the strike zone, coming right after hitters.’
Rocker began the spring as the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft and this season has only reinforced that status. His no-hitter made him one of college baseball’s most famous players overnight.
ESPN reported Rocker moved through seven states as a kid. The longest stay was seven years in Arkansas; the shortest was 11 months in Oxford, Mississippi.
“Moving definitely made me the person I am today,” Rocker was quoted as saying. “It showed me how people act and go about their business. I took a little from each person in each of those seven states and put it in myself.”
His mom, Lalitha, is the one who convinced him to go to college, the report said. He could’ve been a first-round draft pick out of high school last year, but Lalitha Rocker wanted him to get an education. She was in the stands for his no-hitter; Tracy Rocker missed it. He had a recruiting dinner at Tennessee, Kumar said.
His parents met when his mother was a student at the University of Maryland and his father was playing for the Washington Redskins. Another famous Indian American who too has an Indian-origin mom and African American father is in contention at present to be the next President of the US: Sen. Kamala Harris.
Rocker, who was born in Alabama, attended North Oconee High School in Bogart, Georgia. As a junior in 2017, he had a 1.63 earned run average (ERA) with 68 strikeouts in 55 2⁄3 innings, according to Wikipedia. In 2017, he played in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Perfect Game All-American Classic. Later that same summer, he played for the USA Baseball 18U National Team.
According to the coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores, Corbin Quote, “Kumar is a physical, competitive young man with a power arm and the ability to command the baseball. He has a mature disposition and a professional deliberate approach for preparation. He took full advantage of his opportunities this fall and gained the respect of the hitters. He connects well with his teammates and will be an important part of the pitching staff. His future is very bright.”
The fame is pouring in for Rocker. Riches are not too far behind.
NATASHA SUBHASH WINS ANOTHER ITF TITLE
Indian American Natasha Subhash, 17, from Virginia, won the Orlando Tennis Series $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament last month, at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, beating No. 2-seeded American Tori Kinard in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.
This was the second ITF/USTA Pro Circuit title for the highly talented Subhash, winning the Kingsmill Resort 15K Women’s Tournament in Williamsburg, Virginia, in May.
Subhash in her semifinal in Orlando defeated top-seeded American Grace Min 6-4, 0-6, 6-3, while Kinard outlasted American qualifier Karina Miller 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Subhash dropped only a set on her way to the title.
Subhash, had beaten Nina Stadler, 23, from Switzerland, the No. 6 seed, in straight sets, in the Kingsmill final.
Subhash, who has verbally committed to the University of Virginia, entered the event in Florida at No. 802 on the WTA rankings, according to USTA.
Natasha’s father, Subhash Kongassery, told News India Times that since May, Natasha has played four professional tournaments and won two of those, reached the final in one and reached the semifinals in the other one. Her ranking has jumped from 802 to around 475, after her latest title win. When the new WTA rankings come out on August 2, Natasha’s world rank should be in the low 400s, said Kongassery.
Subhash has two pro doubles titles to her credit too: the United States Tennis Association’s Pro Circuit $15,000 Tampa tournament, in Florida, last year; and in Carson, California, in March of this year.
Subhash lifted the doubles trophy in Florida with Caty McNally, and partnered with Rasheeda McAdoo, in the tournament in California.
Natasha trains at 4 Star Tennis Academy, under coach Bear Schofield. Her parents, Subhash and Sulekha Subhash emigrated to the United States in 1997, from Delhi. Sulekha is a teacher, while Subhash is an IT professional in the Washington, DC area.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)