RailCats First Baseman Hits the Law Books, Too

Mike Rohde isn’t your average first-year law student. He isn’t your average minor league baseball player, either.

While students at The John Marshall Law School are studying feverishly, Rohde is doing the same work and balancing his position as a first baseman for the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

“This was not easy,” Rohde admitted. “I had some stressful days and didn’t get much sleep in the month of May, but being able to play again this summer made the whole process worth it.”

In a given season, the RailCats travel across the country and can play seven days a week. Some games are played as far as 1,000 miles away in Fort Worth, Texas, and some are played on RailCat turf, U.S. Steel Yard, in Gary, Ind. The RailCats, an independent minor league franchise, isn’t classified as Double A or Triple A, despite its talent being of the same caliber.

“It’s at a cutthroat level,” Rohde said, describing the professionalism of the game and its players. “There are men in this league who have played in the major leagues. Each night I get challenged at a high level.”

Rohde hasn’t made it to the major leagues, but has the rap sheet to get him there.

He earned six varsity letters in baseball and basketball at Brookfield Central High School in his hometown of Brookfield, Wis., and in 2002 was named Player of the Year by Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association, Greater Metro Conference and by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He played varsity as an underclassman at the University of New Orleans before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to play for the Fighting Illini.

In high school and college, he primarily played third base and shortstop, but making the transition to first base in minor league wasn’t difficult. He credits this switch to the roster he was on, and to his 6-foot-3-inch stature.

Barely done with his undergraduate degree, he was signed as a free agent to the Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers in 2007, and in 2008 he went to the RailCats, where he was named Northern League Rookie of the Year in 2008—the first RailCat to receive such an honor. The RailCats website cites Rohde as a mainstay in their lineup the last two years—playing 179 of a possible 192 regular season games—and he ranks in the top 10 in nearly every career offensive category. Combined with his partial 2007 season with the Flyers, he boasts a .303 career average with lifetime totals of 52 doubles, 119 RBI and 33 stolen bases.

Rohde has always been a ball player. His father, Mark, played for Valparaiso University in the early 1970s and coached high school and college baseball, so Rohde was always around baseball. Though his father never forced his son into the sport, Rohde was always carrying equipment or handling bats for his dad’s teams.

“He didn’t push anything on me, I followed along,” Rohde said. “Baseball has kind of been in my blood my whole life.” Rohde has played in organized sports since age seven.

Rohde attributes his reason for sticking to baseball for the past two decades to his love for the game.

“To me, there’s nothing better than being part of a team, competing at a high level around the country and putting on the uniform every day. It’s challenging both mentally and physically, and we all only get one chance in our lives to do this before it’s too late.”

Enter: law school.

Rohde became interested in pursuing a career in law when he met Pat Salvi, a personal injury attorney who owns the RailCats with his wife, Lindy. Over the years, Rohde’s discussions with Salvi about law have led to a clerkship at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, P.C., and Salvi helped Rohde prepare for the LSAT.

“I was always interested in law, but law school and the legal field in general always seemed a bit intimidating and unattainable,” Rohde said. “Mr. Salvi gave me the confidence that I have what it takes to pursue a law career. I can’t thank him enough.”

As spring’s final exams crept in, Rohde was practicing approximately six hours per day in preparation for the RailCats’ summer season, and he was studying his outlines at any free moment. Rohde recalls that en route to an exhibition game against the Windy City Thunderbolts in Crestwood, Ill., he took his Torts flash cards onto the bus and his teammates quizzed him.

Despite his concern for juggling law school with his team, he finished his first semester at John Marshall with grades that got him on the Dean’s List—on top of the RailCats’ season beginning May 12.

He isn’t sure how baseball will fit into his life as he progresses through John Marshall—by the time he has his JD he’ll be 30 years old, an age at which “playing will most likely be out of the question.” But, he doesn’t plan to leave baseball behind.

“Ideally I’d like to combine my sports background with my JD and work in sports law,” Rohde said. “I’d like to explore opportunities where my sports experience would be an asset.”

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