Stefen Romero got into baseball for the snow cones.
Growing up on Tucson's South Side, Romero found his love for baseball playing T-ball for Sunnyside Little League at Mission Manor Park.
"I couldn't wait for the games to be done, and then I'd sprint to the concession stand and get a snow cone," Romero recalled. "That's what it's all about. People forget that baseball is a game. It's not a job."
Now 24 years old and one step away from the major leagues, Romero plays the game the exact same way he did for Sunnyside Little League.
"I love playing baseball because it's just a game," Romero said. "I think a lot of guys, as they get older, think of it as a job, and that just creates pressure. Whether it's T-ball, Sunnyside High or Triple-A, it's just a game, and games are fun."
And, boy is Romero having fun this week at Kino Stadium or what?
The former Sunnyside High and Pima Community College product is currently in Tucson with the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate for the Seattle Mariners. On Monday, in front of 50-60 friends and family, Romero had a game he'll never forget.
He went 3 for 4 with a grand slam, two runs scored and five RBIs. It added to an already stellar season, in which Romero is batting .302 with six home runs and 49 RBIs in 62 games.
"I think there's no doubt that he's going to play in the big leagues at some point," said Tacoma manager John Stearns on Tuesday before Tacoma's 11-5 loss to Tucson. "His bat is what plays up there. Obviously our organization, we're looking for hitters, and I look for him to be up there within a short period of time."
Romero isn't one of those players who will tell you he doesn't think about playing in the major leagues. Far from it.
In fact, the former Blue Devil thinks about it quite a bit. The dreams of reaching the big leagues began years ago right here in Tucson and at Kino Stadium.
His childhood house at South 12th Avenue and Irvington Road was just a few minutes from the stadium. His grandpa, Joe Romero, the man who introduced him to baseball, used to take him to the park to watch the Tucson Sidewinders.
"Growing up, watching the Sidewinders and seeing Triple-A, I was so young, and they were so close to the big leagues," Romero said. "It's cool to see me playing on the same field and in front of family and friends. It was truly a blessing to perform the way I did Monday."
A few more performances like that, and Stearns' prediction will likely come true sooner rather than later. And Romero will be ready for it when it happens.
"I think about it all the time. Who wouldn't?" Romero said of reaching the majors. "When you're at this level, it's just a phone call away. I catch myself thinking about it, especially at night before bed. I'll envision myself on deck at Safeco Field with the sign out in left field with 40,000 fans. I'm a big guy on the mental game and visualizing what you want to accomplish."
That will come in time. For now, Romero is enjoying his adventures in Triple-A and trying to improve daily.
He missed the first few weeks of the season with an oblique injury and has also had minor wrist and ankle injuries that have forced him to miss a few games.
But there have been more ups than downs this season for Romero. Hitting the grand slam Monday, in front of his mom, brothers and rest of his family is the leader right now for highlight of the season.
"When I came out for stretch before the game, my aunt and uncle had a huge sign that said 'Romero's number one fans,'" Romero said. "It was just awesome seeing all that support. It just shows that they are truly proud, especially growing up on the south side of Tucson.
"For them, it's huge seeing someone in their family excelling and doing what they love to be doing."
And Stearns will tell you he's doing it the right way.
"He's just a professional," Stearns said. "He plays for the team. You never have a problem with him. I have nothing but good things to say about Stefen Romero. He has a bright future ahead of him."
• Tucson closer Miles Mikolas was called-up to the big leagues by San Diego before Tuesday's game. He had a 3.14 ERA in 43 innings with 20 saves before the promotion.
To clear a space for Mikolas, San Diego optioned right-hander Tyson Ross to Tucson. Ross, who has worked primarily as a reliever for San Diego, will move into Tucson's starting rotation. San Diego is hoping to stretch him out, so he can return as a starter.
He was 0-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 22 games for the big club.
• The Padres on Tuesday wore throwback Tucson Toros uniforms. The threads were different than the Toros uniforms they wore last month.
Tuesday's uniforms paid tribute to the 1991 Toros team that went 79-61 and was led by Kenny Lofton, who had 17 triples and 40 stolen bases that season. The Padres are expected to wear them a few more times this season.
• What: Tacoma at Padres
• When: 7:05 p.m.
• Radio: 1290-AM
Tucson 11, Tacoma 5
• Highlight: Shortstop Dean Anna finished a home run shy of a cycle to lift the Padres (51-42) to a win in the second of a three-game series at Kino Stadium. Anna had two RBIs and scored two runs. Yonder Alonso, with Tucson on a rehab assignment, was 4 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
• Big number: 8: The Padres were 8 for 12 with runners in scoring position, including a first-inning grand slam by left fielder Brandon Allen.
• Tonight's starters: TBA vs. Tacoma RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3-3, 3.09 ERA)
Contact reporter Daniel Berk at email@example.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.