Spring training: HRs give Sunnyside grad hope

2013-03-19T00:00:00Z Spring training: HRs give Sunnyside grad hopeDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The weather tells the story perfectly.

It was 76 degrees and sunny on March 7 in Surprise.

One day later, in neighboring Peoria, it was in the 50s and raining all day.

The two days for former Sunnyside star Stefen Romero, now with the Seattle Mariners organization, went right with the forecast.

Let's start with March 7.

Romero, 24, coming off a season where he was named the Mariners minor league player of the year, was told he was starting at second base, batting ninth and playing behind M's ace Felix Hernandez in a road game in Surprise against the Kansas City Royals.

"Just to start behind a guy like that was an honor and a great way to start the day," Romero said in Peoria last week.

It gets so much better.

Romero singled in his first at-bat and then came up in the fourth inning with the bases loaded. He unloaded on a pitch from Guillermo Moscoso and hit a grand slam to clear the bases.

After a double, Romero hit his second home run of the game in the ninth - this one a three-run shot.

He finished 4 for 4 with two home runs, seven RBIs and four runs scored.

"I got on the bus after that game and had like 30 text messages from friends and family," said Romero, who split his 2012 season between Class-A and Double-A and hit .352 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs.

"I get home and Twitter is blowing up.

"I try to focus on having short-term memory whether it's good or bad, so I savored it for a little and then woke up the next morning and had to put it in the past."

Romero arrived at the Mariners complex early on March 8, ready to build off his strong showing one day prior.

He took the field in the chilly and wet conditions, warming his hands every chance he had.

In his first at-bat, he got behind in the count 0-2 and then struck out on a curveball.

"I swung and missed and, right past the point of contact, I felt a tweak and was like, OHHHH, that does not feel right," Romero said.

The prospect strained his left oblique and was ruled out indefinitely.

He hasn't played in a game since, though the injury isn't expected to cut too far into the minor league regular season, which starts next month. He will likely start the season at Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) once healthy.

"I had a really high, high day and then a really low, low day," Romero said. "Of course I was bummed out, but you have to keep yourself in check and just focus on how you can get better from this."

Chances are Romero will figure out a way. Battling adversity has been a staple of his baseball career.

After a standout career at Sunnyside, Romero didn't receive any Division I offers. Instead, he played one season at Pima Community College in 2008.

There, he batted .412, had 53 RBIs and was named all-conference.

He still didn't receive any Division I offers.

So he headed to the New York Collegiate Baseball League for summer ball without a clear idea of what was next. Chatting with a professional scout a few weeks before the MLB draft, Romero told him he wanted to play Division I baseball to develop his skills and wasn't interested in signing with a professional franchise.

That scout alerted Oregon State of Romero and days later, the Beavers called the former Sunnyside Blue Devil and offered him an 80 percent scholarship over the phone.

"I was like, 'Heck yeah, let's do this,' " Romero said.

He had two productive seasons for the Beavers, playing in 116 games and driving in 101 runs, before being selected in the 12th round of the 2010 draft by the Mariners.

"I have a special place in my heart for Stefen," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "I'm so happy to see how well he's doing for the Mariners. He's just a quality human being. What a good dude. I love the guy."

Stefen Romero file

• Age: 24

• Baseball path: Sunnyside (high school); Pima Community College (junior college); Oregon State (NCAA); Seattle Mariners organization (professional)

• Career minor league stats: 232 games, .318 batting average, 39 HR, 166 RBIs, 56 doubles, 147 runs.

• Fun fact: Romero said he grew up a "die-hard" Arizona basketball fan and has attended several games at McKale Center. He wasn't recruited by the Wildcats for baseball

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.

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