By Jared Welsh
It has taken me so long to write this because the grief overcame my words. Any time I sat down to write this, I became so overwhelmed that I closed the computer and walked away. However, over the last few days the need to write this grew stronger than the emotions that stopped me.
I met Rocco back in 2012 when I was covering the Philadelphia Wings as part of Maryland Sports Insider. It was the first game of the season and I was conducting an interview with then goaltender Brandon Miller. All of a sudden I noticed a fan all decked out in Wings gear standing there also recording my interview. I didn’t think anything of it because we were on the main concourse of the Wells Fargo center and there was nothing stopping fans from interacting with the players. After the interview was over, I quickly grabbed another interview with Drew Westervelt, and sure enough, Rocco was right there recording. I noticed that that the players knew him well and were very comfortable with him. It was after the interviews that Rocco and I officially met.
Over the course of that 2012 season, Rocco would constantly chime in on our weekly Wings show and even became a great go to guest if a player did not call in. The friendship continued into the MLL season with Rocco coming down to Annapolis once or twice to cover Bayhawks games and hangout in the booth with us.
Anyone that knew Rocco will not be surprised by this, he quickly became a great friend and a part of the MSI/LTR family. I have been lucky enough to have Rocco as my color commentator for numerous Chesapeake Bayhawks games and a number of NCAA men’s lacrosse games at Delaware, Lehigh, and York College.
It was those Lehigh games that stand out to me the most. Coming up from Baltimore, I would drive to Rocco’s house, hop in his car, and he would drive the rest of the way from King of Prussia to Bethlehem. Those car rides are something I will cherish, while also being sad that they will never happen again. It was in those car rides I learned about his tenure in the Army Reserve, listened to him boast about his step-kids Samantha and Chris, and of course, get all the Philly sports knowledge I could handle.
Over the course of the MLL seasons we covered together, Samantha, Chris and his wife Jackie would all make appearances in the booth with us. I enjoyed seeing how much his family loved Rocco’s passion for lacrosse. The Chesapeake Bayhawks home games also had their own ritual. Rocco, Jackie, and I began meeting for a meal before just about every game. The time spent outside of the stadium became more impactful than the time in the media booth.
Now, we definitely had a lot of fun in the media booth. Over the course of 8 years and hundreds of broadcasts, your comfort level with your color commentator grows and our personalities come out more and more. The banter that we have developed through those times made the broadcasts even more fun, and hopefully better to listen to. His knowledge of the game and its players was extremely beneficial as we moved through a broadcast. I was also amazed by his quick recollection of things happening in-game. He knew that I could not see the whole field as the play by play guy. I am focused on the ball, who has it and where it is going. He filled in all the gaps for me and made my job a whole lot easier.
It was not just broadcasting where our paths would cross. We spent plenty of games in the media room as writers. In particular, I recall the 2019 NCAA National Championships in Philadelphia. We were in his town, with his people. While I am a Philly sports fan, I am not able to make it up there as much as I would like for Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers games. As we walked around, he knew EVERYONE. Our combined tenures in the lacrosse media world made it fun walking about the festivities and talking with pro players and coaches that we have crossed paths with in our work. The same was true at the 2019 US Lacrosse Convention. Walking the exhibition hall with him was impossible, because we would only make it a few feet before someone Rocco knew came up and struck up a conversation.
In the global events of 2020, it only seems fitting that our last encounter at a lacrosse event was during the MLL condensed season. Luckily, he was able to make it down to Annapolis one last time and sit beside me and cover some games. While it was not a broadcast, we had a great time chatting as we both worked on our articles for our respective media outlets. Who knew, in that moment, it would be the last time we would be at a lacrosse game together.
One of the many adjectives people have used to describe Rocco has been loyal. His loyalty to his family, friends, his city, and his sports teams is unmatched. The outpouring of support and tributes from the players would make Rocco blush, which is hard to do. Rocco would help anyone he met, even just for a moment, if he had the power to do so. It is still hard to believe that Rocco has left us, however, his impact on the people of the lacrosse world, and the world in general, will live on. That is a legacy anyone can be proud of.
I will miss having Rocco by my side in the upcoming years as I continue to broadcast and cover lacrosse games. His presence will surely be missed. However, he will not be gone. He will be there in spirit as I plan on having the Wings hat he gave me at every game I work. Lacrosse will always serve as a reminder of Rocco, but also serve as the medicine game to help cure the grief.
Rest in Peace Rocco.