What historic American Indian Kumar Rocker MLB pick means for South Asians

Moments after the New York Mets named pitcher Kumar Rocker the 10th overall pick in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft, South Asian fans began to worry about the prospect that a real superstar of Indian origin is found in the big leagues.

Rocker, 21, the son of a black American father and a Native American mother, started making waves as a teenager when he was selected for the USA Baseball Under 18 team in 2017 The right-hander had a 1.93 earned run average with the team and won the World Baseball and Softball (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup gold medal. He then played in college for Vanderbilt.

“In fact, I’ve been following him since he was in high school,” Andrew Khan, a writer of Indian and Guyanese origin who covers the sports site project MLB Marathon, told NBC Asian America, adding that he was immediately intrigued when he saw Rocker’s first name on Team USA’s roster in 2017.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 and played ball in high school, ball in college, travel ball, and never played with another American Indian,” did he declare.

Khan quickly began to watch Rocker’s departures from Vanderbilt. “They actually showed her mother in the stands, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it looks like we can be related. “It just struck a chord because my mom and aunts were going to watch me play.

Media coverage of Rocker while in college often noted his Indian roots, with his family often pointing to his father and mother’s influences on him. His father, Tracy Rocker, is a former college football star who played a defensive tackle for Auburn University in the late 1980s. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and is currently defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Her mother, Lalitha Rocker, is an instructional designer and the daughter of Indian immigrants. While many star high school baseball players sign with major league teams soon after graduating from high school, Kumar and Lalitha said The Tennessean in 2019 that Lalitha’s desire for him to attend college was a big reason he decided to enroll in Vanderbilt.

“I’m an 18-year-old kid, so I was never going to make such a decision without relying on the wisdom of my parents, my elders,” Rocker told Tennessean.

Lalitha Rocker told the newspaper that she wanted to name him Kumar (which means “prince” or “young child” in Hindi) as a tribute to her Indian heritage. “I want him to be aware of his heritage and for other people to ask where his heritage is, and not just see him as an African American child,” she said.

Baseball watchers note that in addition to being South Asian, Rocker also has the potential to be a prominent black American at a time when African-American participation in baseball is falling. As a mixed-race player in New York City – home to one of the oldest South Asian communities in the United States – Rocker “is in a really interesting place where he can not only establish a South Asian presence in the sport. “, baseball blogger Navneet Vishwanathan said: “but also be a representative of black culture in baseball.”

Fans are also hoping that Rocker’s presence in the Mets organization means the team will make a concerted effort to market the game to South Asian populations in the Greater New York City area.

“I hope this is an opportunity for the Mets to see themselves as a real potential market among the South Asian community,” said American University history professor Gautham Rao, a longtime fan of the Mets. Put. “You’re going to see little kids with Kumar Rocker shirts. It’s going to be legions of little Indian and Pakistani kids with that name on their jerseys. I think it can only be a good thing.

As a third-generation Métis Indian, Rocker represents how far the diaspora has evolved since the 1960s and 1970s, when a sizable number of South Asian immigrants like Rocker’s grandparents began to migrate. settle in the United States after the passage of 1965. Immigration Act.

Rao said that as a young child in the 1980s, he couldn’t imagine seeing a player of South Asian descent playing professional sports due to the lack of visibility of Asian-born athletes in the American sports landscape. .

“It’s a generational thing. We have seen more young people, second and third generations of South Asian origin integrate more into the sport culture, ”he said. But even as South Asians began to creep in hockey, Soccer and basketball, and other Indian nationals and South Asian Americans have been drafted by MLB before, none have been as publicized or as scrutinized as Rocker, Rao noted. (This year, the San Francisco Giants drafted Rohan Handa, a Yale southpaw who is also a Native American, in the fifth round.)

The lack of marketing geared towards South Asian sports fans is also notable, as Rao, Khan and Vishwanathan all noted that the communities they grew up in spoke, watched and attended games on a regular basis. “My grandmother barely spoke English, she spoke more or less than Tamil, but she loved watching [baseball] games, ”Vishwanathan recalled. “She passed away a few years ago, but if she knew there was someone called Kumar Rocker, I think that would make her smile so much.”

As for Vishwanathan, even though he’s been a lifelong Yankees fan, the Mets’ selection of Rocker makes him consider what was once unfathomable.

“Sometimes deep down inside I think maybe I should get myself a Kumar Rocker jersey when he does the big ones,” he said.

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