Tafoya, who turns 50 on Wednesday, earned the 300th win of his Men’s Senior Baseball League career Sunday.
“It was a tough game,” Tafoya said. “It was my first complete game of the season. I’m hurting a little today, a little hungover from the champagne. By the time I iced my arm, it was midnight.”
Tafoya, who lives in Santa Fe, but works as a banker in Albuquerque, threw nine innings and 139 pitches, striking out 12. He scattered 12 hits, allowed four runs, two earned, as his Albuquerque Yankees beat the Albuquerque Colt .45s 11-4.
The Colt .45s were 4-0 and averaging about 15 runs a game entering Sunday night’s game, and Tafoya was warned they would be tough.
“I decided they have to prove they can hit my fastball before I throw anything else,” Tafoya said.
In the first inning, delivering nothing but fastballs, he struck out the side.
“They said I was throwing 86, 87 (mph),” Tafoya said. “To get that many strikeouts something had to be going.”
Tafoya has been playing in the league for 20 seasons.
“This is unprecedented,” said Steven Sigler, founder and president of the Men’s Senior Baseball League, which has 3,200 teams and 45,000 members from coast to coast. Sigler said nobody else in amateur baseball is even close to 200 wins.
“This is as important as a major league player’s 300th win, only Rod doesn’t get paid for it,” Sigler said. “This is for pride, for his teammates, for MSBL, all of these things that have given him a second chance at baseball.”
Tafoya posted 94 wins in the minors and college – starting with a stint at New Mexico Highlands.
But while pitching in the Mexican minors about 25 years ago, his elbow popped when he uncorked a slider. The tendon had ripped from the bone. Rather than going under the knife, Tafoya took six months off and then joined the Erie Sailors of the New York-Penn League, but his arm and batters were both killing him and after just a few starts, his manager, Mal Fichman, told him, “I’m sorry, but you’re done.”
That was in 1990.
But after a few years, the mound beckoned and he’s been at it ever since.
In February, he pitched in Puerto Rico. In March, he took two trips to Las Vegas, Nev. In April, he pitched in Mexico and then his season started. He’ll make about 15 starts for the Yankees.
Later this summer, he’ll pitch for the Alpine Cowboys of the independent Pecos League, where he’s the lone exception to the nobody-over-25 rule.
After Sunday’s win, he joined his teammates for dinner.
“I came home and had three bottles of champaign on ice, ready to go,” Tafoya said. “We only got trough one. I’m not a drinker.”
He’s a pitcher and he expects to go another 10 years. By the time he turns 60, he’s hoping he will have 400 wins. He’s healthy, his arm is strong and turning 50 doesn’t seem so bad.
“I’m a happy camper,” Tafoya said.