By Leah Chiappino
Three Village’s Lawrence Rocks and his son Burton Rocks have both made history in the world of baseball.
The son, a sports agent and attorney, negotiated a record-breaking $26 million contract for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong in 2018. Soon after, his father, a world-renowned chemist and a professor emeritus at Long Island University in Brookville, worked with DeJong, who was a biochemistry major at Illinois State University, experimenting on the best temperature to throw a baseball. They found due to its elasticity, 75 degrees is the best.
Last year, Topps card company issued official cards for both father and son as part of their Allen and Ginter series, making it the first time in the company’s history that a scientist appeared on the back of a card.
This year, as part of their Topps of the Class Program, the company is partnering with various hobby shops issuing a free baseball card, featuring the Rocks to any child that shows their report card. Three different cards will be included in the program, each highlighting a different subject.
One card features Lawrence Rocks and DeJong in lab coats, but the senior Rocks isn’t stopping his mission to promote education there. At 86, he is working on producing a TV show for children about science with DeYoung and has launched the hashtag, #WeatherStationMoon, a grassroots initiative he created and debuted to MLB network radio July 20 last year. This is to advocate for the U.S. to have an unmanned weather station on the moon to accurately measure climate change, something he says will have a heavy impact on baseball and sports analytics.
“I don’t want to be political,” he said. “I want to be scientific. I want kids to think. All you need to understand science is imagination and curiosity. We want kids to make their own experiments like Benjamin Franklin did when he discovered electricity.”
Another card has Burton Rocks and DeJong, with the caption “DeJong Rocks Reading” to promote literacy.
Burton Rocks said the mission of the initiative is to have kids idolize education same way some
“With the salaries so high in baseball today, I wanted to make kids think scientists are cool, teachers are cool and people around them are cool,” he said. “We want athletes to appreciate those that educated them.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, DeJong had original planned to visit local hospitals during spring training to gift children cards. Instead, he participated in Topps 2020 virtual tour via social media.
The plan was something that is personal to Burton Rocks. Growing up, he suffered from life-threatening asthma that proved to be stubborn and difficult to cure, causing many code-blue scares.
“Being a kid 40 years ago, the world was so different in approaching anyone with a disability,” he said. “As a kid, one of the earliest things I remember was doctors telling my father if he could invent something, they would use it. The research wasn’t there and there was no cure for what I had. It was uncharted territory.”
Lawrence Rocks, who was influential in creating the U.S. Department of Energy and received his doctorate from Vienna University of Technology, worked with his son’s pediatrician on figuring how drugs interact to create the best possible result, before deciding that a specific combination of low-dose, long-term antibiotics, worked the best. The father said it was one of the worst cases the doctors had ever seen.
Burton Rocks, who now resides in Manhattan, said he is shocked when he comes to the area to visit his parents by the strides the community has made in medicine and embracing those with disabilities.
“When you look at the Ronald McDonald House at Stony Brook, it’s unbelievable to see,” he said. “When I was growing up, you had to go to St. Charles because they were the only ones that were even equipped to deal with kids, let alone open a children’s hospital or resources for their families.”
He recalled moments from when he was as young as 3 or 4, having to spend a night alone in the hospital when parents were not allowed to stay. However, his mother, Marlene, who quit her job as a Spanish teacher in New York City to care for him, protested and became a makeshift nurse, administering his IVs and medications.
Describing growing up in the area as “extremely trying,” the younger Rocks said he was badly bullied in school for his disability.
“It was a lot of painful memories,” he said. “I’ve tried myself to block out most of my life after kindergarten until high school, because if I didn’t, I would have to remember some of the most horrific things. Can you imagine somebody beating a kid down on the ground, and taking their inhaler away during an asthma attack and getting away with it today? To me it was relentless and happened repeatedly. The joke was hiding my inhaler during recess.”
He recalled another incident of a teacher being annoyed by him wheezing during an asthma attack, and then forcing him to sit by an open window as punishment, making it significantly worse.
“Despite all that I try to have a sense of humor and bring the positivity of my parents with me,” he said.
Burton Rocks said he never let those obstacles hold him back, graduating from Stony Brook University Phi Beta Kappa in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in history and Hofstra University School of Law in 1997 with a juris doctor. In Law School, he went on scouting missions with Clyde King, a special advisor to George Steinbrenner and a friend of his father. He subsequently co-wrote books with King and former baseball player Paul O’Neill, before he founded the C.L. Rocks Corporation, his sports agency.