On Aug. 3, 1994, Jose Rojas, 89, died of that most noble of causes: old age. About 300 people crowded into a Santo Domingo funeral home the next day to mark the passing of this carpenter and blacksmith, to celebrate a life well lived, to say goodbye to the patriarch of a baseball family.
After the service most of the mourners went in peace, but Rojas's son Jesus Alou was in an uncharacteristic hurry. He was driving to Cristo Redentor cemetery, on the outskirts of the city, to ensure that everything was ready for the burial. As Alou and a friend navigated the traffic that chokes the capital of the Dominican Republic, they listened to horse races on the car radio.
Suddenly the sound went dead.
"Radio broken?" asked Alou's friend, Gary Hughes, the Florida Marlins' scouting director.
"Oh, no," Alou said in his soft, high-pitched singsong. "They're just having a moment of silence for my father."
"Now, that's big," Hughes marveled. "A moment of silence at the track for Don Abundio."
To almost everyone, Jose Rojas was Don Abundio. "Abundio," Jesus Alou says, "comes from abundance," and when you consider Rojas's progeny—both their number and the numbers they put up—has any nickname linked to baseball ever been more appropriate? Rojas never saw a major league game, but his sons and grandsons had played in 5,808 of them through last Friday. With all due respect to the DiMaggios and the Ripkens, to three generations of Boones and to Griffeys Sr. and Jr., the descendants of Don Abundio are the most abundant baseball family of all.
The baseball roots of the Rojas family are deep and sprawling, better suited to a 19th-century Russian novel than a 20th-century expanded box score. The family's connection to the game spans four countries (the Dominican Republic, the U.S., Canada and Mexico) and a combined 58 major league seasons. Three of Don Abundio's six children with his wife Virginia Alou—Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou—were prominent major leaguers, and Felipe's son Moises Alou is an All-Star leftfielder with the Montreal Expos. Before he married Doña Virginia, Don Abundio fathered two children by a woman who died young and whose name was not known by most of his family. One of the grandsons descended from that liaison is Expo relief pitcher Mel Rojas.
Climb this family tree with caution: You can bark your shins on almost any branch. Some of Don Abundio's descendants are surnamed Rojas; some, Alou. Some use both names—or switch back and forth. "I use Alou when I call the airlines for reservations, because I get a better seat," says Matty, now the Dominican scouting supervisor for the San Francisco Giants. When he played in a benefit Softball game outside Santo Domingo in February, Moises Alou was introduced as Moises Rojas Beltre, because Rojas is his father's family name and Beltre is his mother's family name.
Truly, you can't tell this family without a scorecard.