I notice the hand-written note sticking out from the nameplate at the top of Sergio Romo’s locker. On the front is a child’s drawing of a man: a round head, oval body and four straight lines for arms and legs. The body is colored orange with a big “G” stretching from the player’s chin to the start of his stick legs.
Across the top is scrawled “Thank You.”
Romo pulls it down and shows it to me.
“This is one of the perks of the job,” he says.
He had been asked to meet with a boy who was a big Giants’ fan and a cancer patient. The boy was in the hall outside the clubhouse. All Romo did was go out and chat with him and his family sign a few things. And for that he received this painstakingly written note.
“It’s amazing that we get the chance to do this,” Romo said. “And that it means something to someone else. I’m sure it meant more to me than him.”
Romo is one of those guys who look like the friend of the baseball player, not the player himself. He’s a few inches short of six feet. He’s slight. He doesn’t have the big leaguer’s too cool-for-school demeanor. He loooooves to talk. He has been known to bounce around the clubhouse and dugout like a four-year-old at Chuck E. Cheese. (Put him and Lincecum together and you have enough energy to light the scoreboard.)
In his second year in the major leagues, Romo still finds himself looking around and shaking his head that he has made it this far. Not that he lacks for confidence. He is fearless and ravenous on the mound: Going into Tuesday’s game, he has appeared in more games than any other Giants reliever. Opponents are batting .186 against him. In 9 of his 11 games, he held opponents scoreless, and he leads relievers with 13 strikeouts.
“I was at a pizza place the other night after a game and guy comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Sergio Romo?’ I had on a jacket with the hood up and the guy recognized me! It’s crazy.”
Romo grew up in Brawley, California, on the Mexican border, among the fields of sugar beets. lettuce and alfalfa. His father, Frank, was born in Mexico and crossed the border into the U.S. with his migrant-farmer parents when he was a baby. Frank grew up moving with the crops, from Imperial Valley to Salinas to Stockton, building his muscles lifting boxes of lettuce. Wherever he went, he found a field to play baseball. When his first son, Sergio, was two years old, he bought him a baseball glove.
“He grew up with a glove on his hand,” Frank says when I call him in Brawley.
Even as a toddler, he went with his father when Frank played for a semi-pro team in Mexicali. Sergio began pitching at age 8 and never stopped, though he wasn’t recruited out of high school. He was just 5 feet seven. After bouncing around four colleges in four years, he was drafted by the Giants in 2005 in the 28th round.
He was in the major leagues three years later, making his debut in June 2008.
He nearly doomed himself before he had barely begun, however, missing curfew, going AWOL, rubbing veterans and coaches the wrong way with his happy-go-lucky attitude coupled with fits of pique when he felt wronged. His transition into the maturing, more self-aware player who showed up this spring is a tale in itself.
And I’ll tell it in an upcoming issue of Giants Magazine. Stay tuned.