Ricky Romero was the final player of the afternoon to walk into the media room during day one of Blue Jays Winter Fest. He greeted a few familiar faces and stood in front of reporters and the bright lights of a TV camera for the first time in several years.
“I haven’t done this for a while,” Romero joked.
It was his first scrum since announcing through social media on New Year’s Eve 2018 that he officially retired from baseball. The former Blue Jays starter knew in early December of 2018 that this chapter of his life had come to an end.
“I was still trying to sign with some teams here and there, just to go show what I could do. Once I got no action for that, I told them my name is not as valuable as it once was. I told myself, ‘that’s okay’,” Romero said.
“Two years ago I would’ve been mad at everything, but I think I understood where the game was going and where it’s trending. That’s why I took a step back, reflected on everything and at the end of the day, I’ll make this decision and be proud of what I accomplished.”
Without a contract he was hoping for, Romero hung up his cleats and declared his retirement.
Some players choose to make a big deal about their retirement. Others never really close the door on a return to Major League Baseball. Mark Buehrle, for example, has yet to declare that he’s done playing professional baseball. Romero preferred to close the last chapter on his playing career.
After his retirement announcement post on Instagram, Romero was approached by Sportsnet to write an article chronicling his career, “When You Know, You Know”. He happily obliged because it was an opportunity to tell his story and thank the people who were instrumental in his career.
“Coming here, writing that article, it was a chance for me to thank not just Toronto, but all of Canada,” Romero said. “Somebody convinced me to write an article, but I said, “I have so much to say”. It was the perfect time for me to thank the fans.”
What followed in the days after his announcement was something Romero never anticipated. It was hundreds of messages of congratulations from former teammates, coaches, fans and even a few competitors. He said he got a little choked up scrolling through all the kind words.
“I received a lot of great messages, almost to the point where you smile and you try not to tear up. What they wrote, what a great example I am and they loved having me as a teammate. Morrow, Cecil, J.P., Bautista, Zep, Bautista, Edwin, J.A. Happ. At the end of the day, they saw what I was going through in 2012 and 2013 and I wasn’t giving up.”
2012 and 2013 were the toughest years of Romero’s professional career. He suffered torn quads in both legs and pitched through the pain in 2012 and yet made every one of his 32 scheduled starts that season.
On the surface, it looked like 2012 was a significant step backwards in Romero’s career. Behind the scenes, he struggled to stay on the field. The injuries were out of his control, but Romero didn’t lament his lack of effort.
“It’s not like I wasn’t trying. I wanted it to work. That’s just the way the game is and the way it ended,” Romero said. “Maybe if you asked me in 2012 and 2013, I would be so mad at the world, but at the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to put on a big league uniform and that means the world.”
In 2009, there was a passing of the torch from one Blue Jay to another. It was the final year that Roy Halladay donned a Blue Jays uniform and it was also Romero’s inaugural rookie season.
As Halladay was traded to Philadelphia that offseason, the torch was unofficially bestowed upon Romero to lead the next generation of starting pitchers for the Blue Jays.
They only shared a dugout for one year, but Romero recalls what it was like to cross paths with a Hall of Famer. Halladay led by example, which meant the younger Blue Jays pitchers often pulled up a seat and simply marvelled at an artist working his craft.
“You had to watch him. You learned from watching him,” Romero said about Halladay. “He wasn’t going to come up to you and put his arm around you and be like, ‘this is what you’ve got to do’. Once you got comfortable around him, you could go up to him and ask him a question here and there and he would be more than happy to answer it.”
There were many tales of Halladay’s intensity on game day. He would often be entrenched “in the zone” that teammates were fearful of speaking to Doc on his start days.
“He had that look. He had his headphones on and I remember he’d walk through the clubhouse and you just got out of his way,” Romero recalled about his former teammate. “You didn’t even give him the nod, you just let him do his thing.”
Romero agreed with many of his fellow Blue Jays alumni, that Halladay should be a shoo-in as a first ballot Hall of Famer. On Tuesday evening, the Baseball Hall of Fame announces their 2019 induction class and Halladay will likely go in as the latest member of Cooperstown.
Given the benefit of time, Romero realizes just how special it was not only to have Halladay as a teammate, but to have a front row seat to watch one of the best pitchers of his era.
“Guys like that don’t come around very often. It just doesn’t happen. We witnessed it. We lived it with him,” Romero said. “I’m beyond proud to say I was able to call him a teammate for one year.”
Now that he’s officially retired from the game of baseball, Romero is looking forward to starting the next chapter of his life. He says he wants to stay involved in the game and hopes to pass on the lessons he learned to other young pitchers.
The most important title Romero occupies is “dad”, as he’s the father to a three-year-old son, Sebastian. Romero acknowledges that once he became a father, his outlook on life changed. In the past, a bad outing on the mound used to eat him alive. Now, the outstretched arms of his son’s embrace help Romero realize what’s truly important.
“When you come home, that little boy doesn’t care about anything else other than seeing his daddy. Little things like that are what matters. It definitely changes your perspective on life. I just wish he would’ve seen me one more time on that mound. Hopefully, one day, he’ll be proud of his dad.”