Sergio Romo Smiling

Gigante: On and Off the Field

Written by Alfonso Garcia

    From a third baseman affectionately nicknamed “Panda,” to a slender pitcher known as “The Freak,” the San Francisco Giants have added a special flare to the game of baseball that keeps attracting a multitude of people to AT&T Park.  Although many believe that the sold out games are due to the Giants recent success, there is no denying the fact that fans are gathering around certain players.  Such is the case of Giants closer Sergio Romo, who has become a “fan-favorite” for his charismatic personality, but has also drawn the attention of the Latino/Chicano community of the Bay Area.  

    For those who enjoy following the San Francisco Giants, this may come as no surprise, especially because of the ways Romo has continued to display loyalty and pride in his Mexican culture.  Whether it is through his energetic 8th and 9th inning entrances that include Banda music, or the thought provoking T-shirt he wore during the 2012 World Series Parade, which said “I Just Look Illegal,” Romo, strongly appeals to this audience and community.  Yet beyond the pride and theatrics is a commonality that Chicano/Latino fans may or may not be aware of: A story about resiliency and overcoming barriers, that most in the community can identify with.

    Born in Brawley, CA, to Frank and Leticia Romo, the journey to the big leagues was everything but easy for Sergio Romo.  First of all, Brawley, a town of only 25,000 residents, 22 miles north of the U.S.- Mexico border, does not readily attract the attention of college and professional baseball scouts.  As Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, even though several scouts may have gone to Brawley, “The few scouts who saw Sergio in high school dismissed him as being too small.”  Romo was an extraordinary pitcher throughout his entire high school career, but at only 5’10”, the scouts who observed him had the misconceived notion and concern that his body could not withstand the hardships of pitching at a more serious level for a longer period of time. Those were devastating words for an individual whose entire life revolved around baseball. 

    As Chris Haft of MLB.com noted in 2009, baseball runs in the blood of the Romo family: “Both of Sergio's grandparents pitched as amateurs. His sister, Leti, played softball in high school. Their mother, Leticia…Sergio's brother…numerous cousins and uncles also played baseball at various levels.”  It seems fitting that a member of the Romo family would one day prosper and play baseball professionally.  Yet with no scholarship for Sergio to play in college, his life goal, and probably his family’s goal as well, seemed like a far-fetched dream.

    To the surprise of most in his community of Brawley, instead of abandoning his dream of playing professional baseball and following his father’s advice to enlist in the Navy, Romo decided to enroll in junior college (Orange Coast College) and play there until a four year university made him a legitimate offer. 

    Like many in the Latino/Chicano community, Romo grew up with stories of suffering and struggle from previous generations, experiences shared throughout his community in Brawley.  They were emotionally packed stories about picking crops in the fields of California, and of surviving day to day on simple necessities most are able to take for granted.  It was certainly a struggle and history that his father Frank, once a potential and promising baseball player himself, did not want his children to be a part of.  As Valerie Hamilton of The California Report said, “[Frank Romo] came to Brawley from Mexico as a child.  He cut his own baseball career short to work [in] the fields.  His father before him did the same.”  Therefore, as Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury reiterates, “Frank Romo wanted a different route for his boys as he created a steady life in Brawley as a machinist for the Imperial Irrigation District.” Although he may have told Sergio to enlist in the Navy, he always wanted what was best for his sons. 

    The stories and efforts of his father may have served as potential reasons Romo decided to overcome the discouragement of scouts, and focus instead on seeking alternatives to his dream, not only for himself, but also for those members of his community who wished they could do the same but had been deterred by circumstances similar to his father’s.

    As mentioned by Ann Killion, after enrolling in Orange Coast College, Romo moved onto Western Arizona University the next year.  The following year he transferred to yet another college, North Alabama University, where he had to overcome another barrier that would threaten his aspirations.  According to Killion, “Romo's toughest year was his junior year in Florence, Alabama. He and the coach butted heads.”  The awful relationship that developed between the two can be attributed to discrimination against Romo’s ethnicity and his often-defiant attitude.  In Killion’s article “Through the Bruce-At-Bat,” Romo says, “I was reminded every day that I was different.”  In another article by San Jose Mercury’s Monte Poole, he elaborates that the worst of this relationship between coach and player came when Romo, on the cusp of breaking a North Alabama University record for strikeouts, was suddenly pulled out of the game, thus keeping the previous record intact and infuriating an already dissatisfied Romo.  Fortunately this experience did not affect Romo’s aspirations too severely.  If anything, it cemented in his mind that in order to make his own vision come true, he had to fight through unwanted circumstances and low expectations.

    He ended his time at North Alabama University by mutually opting out of his scholarship, and transferred into Mesa State University in Colorado, where he finally got the opportunity he had long been seeking.  As Eric Danner articulates in a short RMAC feature of Romo at Mesa State University, “In 2005, Sergio Romo had perhaps the best season for a pitcher in the history of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.”  At Mesa State, Romo was able to demonstrate his resiliency on the mound, and after enduring many obstacles, was finally on the doorstep to his ultimate dream.

    After four years in four different schools, he finally concluded his collegiate career and earned eligibility to enter the Major League Baseball Draft in 2005.  Despite the long and painful wait, Romo finally received the call he had been dreaming of his entire life.  As Baseball Reference indicates, in the 28th round of the 2005 MLB Draft, the San Francisco Giants selected Romo from Mesa State University.  Although not immediately introduced as a member of the Giants organization (he waited and endured a couple years in the Giants’ minor league system), but finally in 2008 he was called up to become a relief pitcher. 

Sergio Romo Pitching

    Since then, Romo has become a familiar face in the Giants bullpen and organization.  He first served as a “Set-Up Man” for former closer Brian Wilson, a role in which he went on to capture a World Series Championship in 2010, quietly behind the shadow of the amusing and unpredictable nature of another player, Brian Wilson.  When Wilson suffered an elbow injury at the beginning of the regular 2012 season, Romo took on responsibility as the Giants new closer.

    Despite the fact that being a closer is a daunting task, Romo has handled the job quite well, regardless of any baseball analyst’s criticism and underestimation of the speed behind his pitches.  While it may be true that Sergio has an unusually slow fastball, it was enough for the last out of the 2012 World Series Championship against Triple Crown Winner (and most feared hitter of that season), Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.  Ever since that moment, and because of his famous “slider,” he has become a public icon to the city of San Francisco.  Mentioning the name of Sergio Romo among Giants fans receives pure praise and elation.

    Yet amidst all of the attention and accolades Romo has received, he remains humbly rooted in the struggles he endured to get where he is today.  His unprecedented rise to baseball superstardom is a fact that many in his own community did not see coming, but, as demonstrated earlier, he had always been on the path of attempting to prove everyone who underestimated him wrong.  When told he could not pitch in the major leagues, or strike out the most feared hitter in the game with an 87 MPH fastball, he continued to fight on.  He has a goofy personality, but below the surface, he holds all of those experiences of overcoming barriers that brought him to where he is today, experience that constantly serve as reminders for him to never take anything for granted.  He has revealed several times that he constantly reminds himself, “I’m in the Big Leagues!” 

    As for his connection to the Latino/Chicano community, Romo continues to represent his heritage well, so much so that in honor of the community and his upbringing in the Mexican culture, for the 2013 World Baseball Classic he represented Mexico.  Despite the fact that Mexico did not advance onto the second round, the whole experience was another dream come true for both Romo and his family.  On the other hand, beyond representing Mexico and the Latino/Chicano community publicly, he has elevated Latinos/Chicanos to a new level.  Every time he takes the mound, strikes a batter out, and successfully closes a game for the San Francisco Giants, he represents the best trait of the Latino/Chicano community: resiliency.  Most already know that Romo is absolutely not the most talented pitcher in the MLB, but he is probably one of the most hard working individuals, and considers every “save” opportunity a fight between him and the batter at the plate.  In another example of how Latino/Chicanos are able to identify with him, as noted earlier Sergio Romo was often reminded that he did not belong, would not make it because of his size, or that there was something innately wrong with him, phrases and themes that Latinos and Chicanos are very familiar with. 
   
     For Romo, it was never about his talent, there are probably a handful of other pitchers who throw faster than he does, but it’s that fire and determination that stems from the struggles that he has had to endure in order to get where he is today, and where he is today is nothing short of incredible. 

    Note by the author: Sergio Romo could not be  reached for this article, and therefore the information is, at best, accurately via the work of  other journalists and reporters.  This article was done out of appreciation and respect for what Romo has accomplished in baseball, and the city of San Francisco, and is, by no means  intended to offend anyone.