Hometown Talent Drafted By Braves
By most other accounts, Rocker at his prime was considered one of the premier "closers" in late-1990s baseball. Born in Statesboro, Georgia, Rocker came by his pitching talent early in life. He attended Presbyterian Day High School, reportedly graduating with a 3.5 grade point average. By his senior year there, Rocker, a starting pitcher, had posted three intra-school no-hitters and a pair of sixteen-strikeout games. But it was his 95-mile-per-hour fastball that caught the baseball scouts' attention.
Rocker was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the eighteenth round of the June 1993 amateur draft. Bypassing college ball, the young pitcher instead hit the road with a Class A team. Even in the early days, Rocker earned a reputation as a temperamental eccentric, biting baseballs and letting throws from the catcher hit him in the chest. "He can get crazy," fellow Atlanta pitcher Kerry Ligtenberg told Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman in the article that sparked the controversy. "He's got a real short fuse. When it goes off, it's probably better not to be around."
Though Rocker eventually enrolled in Macon, Georgia's Mercer University and finished two semesters during the off-season, baseball took precedence over his studies. By 1997 the pitcher still hadn't hit his stride, posting a 5-6 won-loss record and a 4.86 Earned Run Average (ERA) in Double-A play. The Braves sent Rocker to the Arizona Fall League, where the young man learned a lesson about playing in the big leagues: "I used to worry over every pitch, every batter," Rocker was quoted in Pearlman's article. "The coaches in Arizona talked to me about just going out and throwing. Don't worry, throw."
That advice seemed to work; on May 5, 1998, Rocker made his big-league debut with the Braves. By the end of the 1999 season, Rocker, a reliever, was throwing stronger, lowering his ERA to 2.49 and amassing thirty-eight saves and 104 strikeouts in more than seventy-one innings. His talent helped the Braves reach the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets—and that's where the trouble began.