CHIBA - Veteran reliever Sergio Romo waited nearly 20 years for Mexico to ask him to play, and now that he has the opportunity to represent his parents’ homeland, he’s holding on to it for all he’s worth.
In Japan with the Mexican national team for a pair of exhibition games against Samurai Japan, Romo told Kyodo News on Tuesday about his journey and his desire to play in March’s World Baseball Classic.
“With the Classic coming up next spring, I want to be ready for that. It’s easy to come and get involved now because I’m looking forward to that,” said Romo, who has played for the San Francisco Giants since 2008 and is now a free agent, as his team practiced at QVC Marine Field.
“I played in (the WBC in) 2013. As a little kid, even playing down in Mexico, I never got an opportunity to represent Mexico. Now, I’m getting these chances and it’s hard for me to turn down because I wasn’t able to do it for so long.”
Born in Brawley, California, Romo’s father, also a ballplayer, took him to Mexicali, Mexico, to play in youth leagues. His dreams of suiting up for Mexico, however, failed to materialize.
“I’m Chicano, I was born in the States, and they always took the nationally born players first,” he said. “They always told me, ‘You’ll get your turn, you’ll get your turn.’ And I waited. They first told me that when I was 9 years old and I didn’t get it until I was 29 (in the 2013 WBC).”
A veteran of the Giants’ three World Series championships, Romo appreciates his good fortune.
“To play alongside a Hall of Fame-caliber player like (catcher) Buster Posey, with a guy whose making a push that way, (pitcher) Madison Bumgarner, to play under a Hall of Fame manager (Bruce Bochy), those are things that make you think this is a dream come true.”
And now that dream has taken him to Japan for the first time.
“I’m excited to see the atmosphere,” Romo said. “I’m spoiled playing at AT&T Park in front of sellout crowds. It’s hard not to go to work with a smile on your face. And knowing there’s the same kind of passion for it (the game) here, I want to see it.
“Being able to play in the Mexican Winter League, oh my gosh, it’s so exciting. It’s non-stop. I’ve been told it’s the same way here, where they’re just excited and in the game. It’s really cool to watch these guys like (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles slugger Japhet) Amador here, because they walk taller here. It’s pretty darn cool to me.”
After serving as the Giants’ closer in the 2012 World Series, Romo said he had an I-told-you-so moment with his father, reminding him of the times he’d said in their backyard that someday his chance would come.
“He always encouraged me and pushed me to follow those dreams,” Romo said. “They said I could bring someone with me (to Japan), and I said, ‘Hey dad, let’s go.’ This means as much to him as it does to me, maybe more.
“There are some (Japanese) names I’ve actually heard. Nori Aoki and our bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu speak so highly of the ball here, the style of play and certain players. And then in international tournaments they’re always so competitive.
“The style of baseball is so unique. They do the little things so well. They move guys over, they play small ball, but they’ve got guys who can drive the ball out of the park, so you can’t take it easy with these guys.”
But while Romo is playing globally, he is constantly reminded of his childhood by Mexico teammates, pitcher Jacob Sanchez and first baseman Jessie Castillo.
Sanchez, currently in the Oakland Athletics organization, is five years younger and from the same hometown, while Romo and Castillo were teammates as children in Mexicali and later in the Mexican Winter League.
“For me, I have two childhood friends, representing Mexico, playing for the same cause, still being ourselves, still being those same little kids,” Romo said. “How cool is that?”