When Francisco Romero’s family moved to Tucson from their Nogales, Sonora, home, the 12-year-old baseball fan discovered Vin Scully — the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Romero would spend hours listening to the iconic broadcaster call the games, some of them featuring Sonoran pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela.
Fast-forward to one day when Romero was sitting in the Arizona Diamondbacks broadcast booth preparing to call his first game, which happened to be against the Dodgers. The legendary Scully walked by and a nervous Romero stopped him.
“I told him who I was and that when I was a kid I learned English listening to his broadcasts,” Romero said. Scully went on his way and so did Romero, who launched a successful career as a Spanish-language sports broadcaster.
Today, the 48-year-old Romero, a graduate of Pueblo Magnet High School and the University of Arizona, is the home game Spanish-language play-by-play announcer for last year’s World Series champs, the Houston Astros. He’s been with the Astros since 2008. But that’s not all. In addition to the Astros, Romero calls the games in Spanish for the University of Arizona football and men’s basketball teams.
While most Tucsonans wouldn’t know Romero from Francisco Garcia or Francisco Jones, in many Tucson homes he’s a star, not only a familiar voice on radio, but television as well for the time he spent working for the Spanish-language network Telemundo.
This is why Star sports columnist Greg Hansen listed Romero as No. 3 in his list of top 100 Tucson sports figures for 2017.
“Whatever happens from here, no one can take that from you,” Romero said about his career and accomplishments.
I visited with Romero at his parents’ home in the Mexican working-class C.E. Rose neighborhood near South 12th Avenue. It’s been the family home since they moved to be closer to his father’s mining job in San Manuel, north of Tucson.
Romero played baseball on rock-strewn, makeshift fields in Nogales, sometimes using doll heads for balls, which they could not afford. But he didn’t take up the game after moving to Tucson.
“I could have, should have,” he said about not playing organized ball as a kid.
But his interest in the game did not wane one bit. Instead of swinging at pitches and fielding balls, he learned to call pitches and strikes by listening to the pros on radio and television — in English and Spanish.
After graduating from the UA with a degree in political science in 1995, Romero got a county job answering phones for the Board of Supervisors. It may not have seemed like much at the time, but Romero said he learned the lessons of dealing with all kinds of people and how to talk to people. These attributes would later lend themselves to dealing with professional players, managers and fans.
It also served him well that he grew up near the border, speaking two languages and understanding two cultures while loving one sport.
Then one day he received a call, one that turned out to be life-changing.
He was invited to join the Tucson Toros, a minor-league team. It was a part-time gig, but it was a foot in the door. A couple of years passed and the Sidewinders replaced the Toros, and Romero left the county to join the Sidewinders. A year later, in 1999, the Diamondbacks give Romero a shot to use his Spanish skills in the broadcast booth.
His career took off.
While Romero is not the first in the field of Spanish-language sports commentary and play-by-play, he’s had a hand in Spanish-language baseball broadcasts for the Diamondbacks, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cincinnati Reds, the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins. And he’s also spent time announcing UA women’s softball, men’s baseball and women’s basketball.
Mike Feder, who has long been involved with professional baseball in town, said that Romero was the perfect choice to join the Toros in the team’s final year.
“The way he talked, plus his professionalism, he was the perfect choice,” said Feder, president of the Vamos A Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta. “I knew he was deserving of a big-league job.”
When the Wildcats’ roller-coaster basketball season comes to an end this month, Romero will immediately leave his Sahuarita home for his Houston apartment and the start of the Major League Baseball season. His wife and 11-year-old daughter live in Sahuarita during the school year, but as soon as school is out, they spend their summers in Houston.
He’s excited to get back to work, with hopes that the Astros can repeat as champions. It will be difficult, but Romero said he feels the team’s chances are better than good.
Whether or not the Astros can again clinch the title, Romero is content with his dream job, one that his wife and family enjoy with him.
“Who would have ever thought that a little kid from el barrio La Pila in Nogales would end up broadcasting major-league baseball?” he said. “It’s pretty special.”