Oscar Romero tried commuting.
During his 29th — and, it turns out, final — season as Tucson High’s baseball coach, Romero would slip away on weekends to Alamosa, Colorado, where his son, Orlando, was a freshman pitcher and infielder at Adams State. The elder Romero would watch a few games, check in with his only boy and return to Tucson in time for another week with the Badgers.
In time, the juggling act “bothered me,” Romero said Wednesday.
“It’s just not me,” he said. “If I’m not there for our guys 100 percent, I felt like I was doing a disservice.”
So Romero is leaving Tucson High, choosing family ties over the familiarity of his alma mater and longtime employer.
Romero will join the Adams State staff as an assistant coach and will work with the infielders and hitters. Romero’s plan is to stay with the Division II program for three years, until Orlando graduates. Romero will split his time between Colorado and Tucson; his wife, a teacher, will stay in town.
Romero leaves the Badgers after recording 488 wins as the varsity coach, and countless more as the junior varsity coach and as Tom Lundy’s right-hand man during a pair of state championships in the late 1980s. Romero’s Badgers made the state championship game three times, the most recent appearance coming in 2016. This year’s team overcame injuries — “we were a little shorthanded,” Romero said — to finish 17-12 and win the Class 6A Southern Region title.
A year ago, the Star’s Greg Hansen listed Romero as the seventh greatest high school baseball coach in city history.
“There’s a time for everything,” Romero, 58, said. “I love the red and white like no other. I left (high school) as a Badger, and was very proud to take it on (as a coach). What a dream to come back and coach at your own school.”
Earlier this month, Romero made the “very tough decision” to leave.
He first joined the Badgers’ staff in 1983, a year after finishing his college playing career at UTEP. Romero earned his UA degree in 1985; when Tucson High posted an opening for a science teacher, Romero returned to school at UA and took 30 hours’ worth of biology classes. He taught biology and science for 19 years before Lundy’s retirement led to an opening in the physical education department.
Romero will teach his final PE class next week.
Romero said he’s unsure who his replacement will be , although a handful of current and former assistants fit the bill.
Former big-leaguer George Arias has been a constant presence around the varsity program; his son, George Jr., just finished his senior season with the Badgers. Rio Rico coach Moises Duran is considered a rising star in the profession. The Class 4A Gila Coach of the Year played at Sunnyside High School and for the UA; he and Romero are close.
Two other assistant coaches are also sure to be considered, Romero said.
“There are four quality guys there,” he said of the possible replacements. “I’m sure it’s going to be a great school for baseball.”
Coincidentally, it was Tucson High’s growing reputation as a baseball power that led Romero — and his son — to Adams State. Romero befriended Colorado Arvada West High School coach Jim Capra during the first-ever Chris Moon Invitational, held at Cherry Field. The two stayed close after Capra was named Adams State’s coach in 2013.
Capra and Adams State soon noticed Orlando, too, and signed him a year ago. Orlando Romero hit six home runs and drove in 22 runs as a freshman, both of which were good for second best on the team.
During the season, Capra began sharing his long-term plan for the program with Oscar Romero. Capra was going to focus on the pitchers, and needed an assistant to work with the infielders and hitters.
“He asked me,” Romero said, “and he said, ‘I don’t know if you’re interested.’”
Romero said yes. He put his family first again on Wednesday. The coach talked about his past (and future) by phone from Phoenix, where Orlando was undergoing surgery to fix a congenital hip disorder. It was the baseball player’s second — and, his dad hopes, final — procedure.
Orlando Romero should be healthy in time for next year’s season opener. His father will again be by his side.
“I’ve always had that dream of coaching college baseball,” Oscar Romero said. “Early in my career, I had opportunities to move on and be an assistant at the JC level. At the time, my family was young and growing and didn’t feel like that was the right thing.
“Now, I’m excited to be coaching at the next level. I’m excited to coach not just my son, but all the kids on that team.”