Sergio Romo comfortable in own skin

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Sergio Romo
Sergio Romo is back in the postseason spotlight.

Sergio Romo, the exuberant, unpredictable and free-spirited member of the San Francisco Giants bullpen clan, is a throwback player from the past. He’s a guy one might picture at a downtown bar, guzzling beer and raising hell. Sergio Romo could have been Al Pacino’s stand-in as Tony Montana in the film “Scarface,” except he was born a bit late and went overboard on the tattoos. The beard is altered from time to time, and once Romo actually showed up at the field clean-shaven. The new look was quickly picked up by media-types, and even prompted a quip from Bruce Bochy.

“I thought (Romo) looked good,” the Giants skipper candidly noted. “It took 10 years off him.”

Sergio didn’t take that as a complement.

“To be honest, I didn’t appreciate how it came out (in the press),” remarked the feisty reliever. “It’s nothing. It’s just facial hair.”

In reality, that’s just the crusty exterior of a man who is both a showman and a professional athlete. Truth be told, Sergio Romo is just as fun-loving and genuine as your favorite “tio.”

Life hasn’t always been a walk in the park for Sergio Romo. He was a scrawny kid who grew up in the farming community of Brawley, California, not exactly a hotbed for major league talent. I know because I beat that path many times as a young scout. But Romo has always possessed grit, desire and a love of the game, playing for college teams in Alabama and Colorado to try and get exposure. He was finally selected by San Francisco in the 2005 amateur draft, although not until the 28th round. Standing only 5′-10″ and weighing in at 170 pounds with a mediocre fastball, he was fortunate to get a shot at every youngster’s childhood dream.

I’ll fast-forward Sergio Romo’s professional career to 2010, since that’s when he established his identity as the Giant’s setup man for eccentric closer Brian Wilson. Sergio’s tortillas and beans pitch has always been a sharp-breaking slider. Opposing batters know it’s coming but look ridiculous trying to hit it. The magical breaking ball was also probably responsible for Romo’s trips to the DL with a cranky elbow, especially in 2011. Ironically, that was the Mexican-American’s best year statistically. The following season, however, was by far the most memorable.

With Wilson on the shelf with Tommy John surgery early in 2012, Romo would become next in line to finish games for San Francisco, and his Fall Classic showdown with Miguel Cabrera is still vivid in my mind. After a steady diet of those wicked sliders, Romo had the guts to fire a fat fastball to fan baseball’s best hitter and send Jim Leyland’s Detroit Tigers home for the winter. Sergio would later make a drunken fool of himself at a Las Vegas New Year’s bash, and the incident created a juicy topic for news outlets all over the world. But I’m not sure anybody really cared, except maybe the airport cop whom Romo accused of being racist. That was just the liquor talking.

There have been a lot of baseball personalities who hit the booze, like Yankee greats Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and my friend, the late Billy Martin. We all recall Martin as a scrappy little guy who wore his emotions on his sleeve. But Billy was a compassionate man with a heart of gold. That’s how I see Sergio Romo, who has used his celebrity status to brighten the lives of others. His well-documented friendship with child cancer victim Ariel Gariano is amazing. Google it and the story will make you cry.

Mexico’s entry in the 2013 Little League World Series was a group Tijuana All-Stars, and one of the team’s best pitchers was Luis Manza, a huge Romo fan. So the day before the 12-year-old was preparing for a tough assignment against Tokyo, Japan, Sergio sent the youngster a good-luck video message in Spanish. Luis was overwhelmed that his hero was following the tournament, and it inspired him to throw a damn good game. This is the real Romo, a family man who loves kids and has two boys of his own. He’s not perfect, but even Derek Jeter must have some flaw that hasn’t been dug up.

Sergio Romo is now at the crossroads of his wild ride with the Giants. His $9 million contract expires at the end of the World Series, and it will be interesting to see how San Francisco General Manager Brian Sabean plans to proceed. Romo’s slider has been flat at times, and he lost the closer job this season to Santiago Casilla, who throws harder and has a better assortment of pitches. To his credit, Sergio has tried to make adjustments, fine-tuning his change-up and experimenting with other pitches that create movement and deception. Most importantly, though, October has always been Romo’s time to shine. And except for the walkoff jack he surrendered to Kolton Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, the 31-year-old veteran has been reasonably effective in four appearances.

Whatever goes down in baseball’s showcase event, I’m sure Sergio Romo will land on his feet in somebody’s bullpen in 2015. He is a survivor who has defied the odds. And like I always say, good things usually happen to good people.

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