PAWTUCKET --- The running bug has bitten Augusto “Cookie” Rojas. And on Saturday, Sept. 1, that bug is going to take a bite out of the Pawtucket Red Sox family and the Pawtucket area in the form of the inaugural PawSox 5K Race/Walk.
McCoy Stadium will open its gates and warning track to runners and walkers of all abilities and ages to its first-ever 3.1-mile race, which will get under way at 9:30 a.m. and use its proceeds to benefit the Pawtucket Red Sox Charitable Foundation.
The idea for this race came from Rojas, the General Sales Manager of the PawSox, who decided to incorporate running into his everyday life towards the end of last year, and after competing in some of the shorter-distance road races across the state, looked into organizing one in his 9-to-5 backyard.
“I heard of other teams doing something like this, and I wondered, ‘Why can’t we do it here?’” Rojas said. “The beautiful thing about working here is you can just go to (team president) Mike (Tamburro) and (vice president and general manager) Lou (Schwechheimer) and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m thinking. I think this would be good for our charitable foundation,’ which supports hundreds of organizations throughout New England that focus on children and families.
“I’ve never organized a race before, but I’ve been to a lot of them, and I told them that I thought I could put a good one together, and they just said, ‘Go for it,’ and that was it.”
Rojas, a Pawtucket native who grew up near the stadium, graduated from La Salle Academy in 1987, where he starred on the football team as a fullback. After graduation, he served the country in the Marines, where he began running, but only because the Corps made it part of his everyday regiment.
“I hated it,” Rojas added with a laugh. “I always thought, ‘Where are we running? We’re going to be going toward something. Why are we running away from it?’ But I got into it and I liked it, and when I came back from Desert Storm, I started running a little bit when I was married.
“But when I started going to law school, I didn’t have time to run, so I just stopped running, and I gained a ton of weight and ended up getting to 245 pounds. I tried to run again, but believe it or not, my doctor said, ‘Don’t run. You’re too big and you’ll hurt your knees. Ride a bike.’ ”
But Rojas didn’t listen to his doctor. He started running again and made some radical changes in his diet, and the results soon followed.
“I lost 65 pounds over three years, and I’m actually about the same weight I was in high school and joined the service,” said Rojas. “That’s when I really started to enjoy running again, because it wasn’t painful and I was seeing the benefits of what I was doing -- running long distances and just having that runner’s high and that sense of accomplishment.”
One thing led to another, and like the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, who offer 5Ks on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and the Boston Red Sox, who conducted their Run to Home Base 9K on May 20, Rojas decided to put together a road race for his team’s worthy cause.
“I think as an organization with such great athletes, we should focus on things that have people staying active,” said Rojas. “We got the blessing a couple of years ago to do our bowling event, and that was a fun event that families did together and had them physically engaged.
“There are fundraisers where you just sit down and eat dinner, and that’s all well and good. But being engaged and active, running’s fun, this sounds like a great idea. And who knows? Maybe this will grow into one of the premier races that (the area) has every Labor Day weekend.”
Rojas received some advice on how to run a ballpark road race ironically not from the Sea Dogs or Red Sox, but from employees of the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, the Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, who earlier this year, held its BlueClaws 5K Run in the Park on April 15.
“It’s a case where it’s just the people you meet at the winter meetings,” added Rojas. “I picked a couple of brains and they gave me some advice and direction on how they run their race and how excited fans get to actually end the race on their field. That was the big thing for them.”
And that will be the big thing in this race, a mostly flat course that was designed and certified by running guru Ray Nelson. It will begin in the stadium’s parking lot, on the road behind the stands at the adjacent Pariseau Field, the home of the Tolman High and St. Raphael Academy football teams.
Runners/walkers will venture up the slight hill, take a right onto Division Street, and then a quick right onto George Bennett Highway, which they will tour for almost a full mile. Another right will follow onto Beverage Hill Avenue, and at the 1.5-mile mark, everyone will hit another right onto Prospect Street.
At the 2.4-mile mark, runners/walkers will made another right onto Pond Street, and a third of a mile later, return to the stadium’s parking lot via the Columbus Avenue entrance, head towards the entrance to the field via the first-base side, and set foot on the field’s soil.
After everyone tours the entire warning track, they will curve along the stands on the third-base side and finish near the PawSox’s dugout. “I told Mike that we definitely have to end the race on the field,” admitted Rojas. “You circle the warning track, you have the music going on and the video board showing all the runners on the field, and then you end right around third base. You get a chance to walk around and enjoy being on the field at McCoy, and then you go enjoy the post-race party afterwards.”
The post-race festivities include food and refreshments from some of the race’s sponsors, such as Munroe’s Dairy, Whole Foods Market, Spumoni’s Pizza, and Little Caesar’s Pizza, a 50/50 raffle that will benefit the team’s charitable foundation, short races for children, and a few other surprises.
The overall male and female winners of the race will also be rewarded handsomely. In addition to winning $250 each, they will receive round-trip Amtrak tickets to either Boston or New York, gift certificates for running shoes, courtesy of Marathon Sports in Boston, and an Alex and Ani bracelet.
The male and female age group winners from seven divisions, ranging from 13-19 to 70-plus, as well as the wheelchair winners will also receive prizes.
As for the rest of the runners and walkers, the good news continues. Everyone will get a ticket to that night’s 6:05 p.m. contest against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and a chance to be on the field again during a pre-game ceremony that will acknowledge the top overall and age group winners and show clips from the race on the video board.
The registration fee is $25 per entrant, and folks can sign up on www.pawsox.com  by clicking on the community tab at the top of the page and then on the race’s link. An entry form can also be downloaded and mailed (with the entry fee made payable to the Pawtucket Red Sox Charitable Foundation) to Augusto Rojas, Pawtucket Red Sox, P.O. Box 2365, Pawtucket, R.I. 02821.
Race t-shirts will be distributed to the first 1,000 registered participants, and registration on the morning of the race will be $30 and take place from 7:45-9 a.m. For more information, contact Rojas at email@example.com  or 724-7300, ext. 111.