By Trevor Busch
Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero headlined the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Awards and Scholarship Dinner on Saturday, imparting words of wisdom for up and coming athletes while reflecting on his career in the big leagues.
Romero was a first round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 2005 at sixth overall, was a 2011 MLB Allstar, pitched opening day for the Blue Jays in 2012, and currently works as an analyst with Sportsnet. Romero was with the Jays at the MLB level from 2009 – 2013, and posted a career 51-45 win-loss record.
As the keynote speaker at the VAB banquet, the southpaw initially talked about his life before baseball growing up as the child of first-generation Mexican immigrants in East L.A., and the special relationship he had with his father.
“To this day, he’s still on cloud nine with everything that I accomplished,” said Romero. “And you know, he had a vision for me at a young age. And it’s crazy how everything kind of turned out the way he thought, because I definitely didn’t see it. Like I told the guys earlier today, everyone in this clubhouse wishes and dreams that one day, you’re going to play in the big leagues. And that was the same vision my dad and my mom had.”
Following his career with the Jays, Romero maintains a relationship with Toronto but when he comes to visit with his family it can lead to some comical situations as he’s still a well-recognized figure in the metropolis, but less so elsewhere.
“My oldest, every time we go back to Toronto, he’s like, ‘Daddy, why? Why do people come up to you? Why? Why do people want to take pictures with you? Why do people ask you for your signature? Who wants your signature?’ It’s pretty funny, trying to explain it to him. But I think slowly he’s realizing what I did in Toronto.”
East L.A. often has a reputation as a rough community, but Romero said despite the flaws it will always be his first home.
“It made me the person, the player, that I once was and obviously more than that into the man that I am today. And like I mentioned, I had a lot of friends who took the wrong way and you know, some ended up dead or others ended up in gangs in jail and stuff like that. And I just think I always had my head on right… And I think coming from East L.A., I was able to realize that I know the odds were against me from day one. I mean, nobody really comes out of there. And so to this day, I think I’m probably the first.”
Originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox, Romero chose a college path at Cal State Fullerton rather than attempt a big league career out of high school.
“One, I wasn’t ready. If I would have signed out of high school, I would have been lost. I mean, it was like $1,000 signing bonus. I had a Division 1 scholarship. I had plenty of offers at the time. And I remember when Boston called me I was actually sitting in class as a senior and some announcement over the megaphone, Ricky Romero has been drafted by the Boston Red Sox. And I was like, the Boston Red Sox? I never talked to anybody. So I talked to the scout who drafted me and he’s like, ‘Hey, man, we’re gonna send you a contract. Are you ready to sign it?’ And I said, no, I’m actually going to go to school.”
After his college career and further development, Romero was drafted again, this time by the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Hard work really does pay off, and work ethic, and having the correct mentality and listening to your coaches. It’s okay to be criticized, you’re gonna get criticized, and it’s all part of it. And I think if your coaches are not criticizing you, maybe they don’t care about you. But I think when they jump on your behind, it’s for a reason, they see some kind of talent.”
Blessed with good stuff, during his career Romero threw an 87–92 miles per hour two-seam fastball, a 92–95 miles per hour four-seam fastball, an 82–87 miles per hour changeup, a curveball that ranged from 74–78 miles per hour, and an 84–86 miles per hour slider.
Walking into the clubhouse after earning a spot on the rotation was like entering another world, said Romero.
“When you see Roy Halladay, obviously, that’s like a legend itself. He was interesting, you got to learn a lot from him. It’s crazy, right? I mean, you find yourself in that clubhouse, and you start looking around and you’re like, ‘I belong here. I’m part of this fraternity now’.
Working every day alongside a hall of fame pitcher like Roy Halladay was an education in itself, admits Romero.
“He left after the 2009 season, but I think he left a lasting impression from me watching him. Every fifth day, I was witnessing greatness in 2009. And I had a front row seat to it. And I cherished it so much, it was really cool. Me and him became close as the season went along. There’s major leaguers and then there’s hall of famers. And as you can just see, the way they prepare – I prepared like crazy -Halladay was just on another level of preparing.”
Plagued by nagging injuries, Romero never returned to The Show following the 2013 season, and he talked about how that affected him physically and mentally.
“It was tough. And for a long time I was mad, and I was bitter, because it just didn’t go my way… at times, we make such a big deal out of this game, when it really is just 60 feet six inches. See the small victories and for me at the time, it was tough to see those small little victories – I wanted it all right away. And I think dedicate yourself to see small victories, you start seeing success again. And I feel like with the self-reflecting and all that being at the top, but being at the bottom has taught me a lot of life lessons, a lot of lessons about myself. A lot of lessons that I’m able to teach my kids one day, because it’s easy to say ‘oh yeah, I was successful at this and this and this and this. Well, what happened? You got hit in the mouth and what did you do after that? And now I have a story to tell.”
Romero remains humble about his MLB success, and when he hears athletes complain about playing in the big leagues it ruffles his feathers.
“What is the best thing about being a big leaguer? Everything, I always say. If you guys ever see a big leaguer complaining, just smack them across the face. Honestly, I think every time I got a kick out of seeing my jersey, that’s honestly the biggest thing that I saw, like just seeing it in a big league clubhouse. You’re flying first class. I mean, you’re flying private charters, you’re staying in five star hotels, you’re playing in big league stadiums, you’re facing the best players in the world. I mean, how much better does it get than that? And I think every moment, every start that I got in the big leagues, was pretty special for me.”
Romero finished with some words of wisdom from Halladay the late hall of fame pitcher imparted to the southpaw during a point in a season when both had been struggling to pick up wins.
“In the end you play baseball for yourself, it does not define you as a person, it’s a job, something you do, not who you are. Stay strong, work hard and trust your ability, one pitch at a time. Give it all you got. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, be satisfied with how you went about it. Don’t forget you don’t regret failure, you regret lack of effort. Don’t be embarrassed how many people in the world have done what you’ve done. We’re all human. We all have differences. We do it in the public eye. Nobody will ever think less of us first. And if you deal with this with the right attitude, my favourite quote is, ‘if you really want to see who I am, watch me when things are not going my way’. That is when you show people what you’re all about. Be proud of who you are, your opinion of yourself matters more than anyone else thinks of you. A tree is a reality. The shadow is the illusion of reality. You are the tree, what people think is the shadow. You know what you’re about, believe in yourself.”
“And I thought that was pretty cool,” said Romero.