Saturday, January 21, 2017

Column on Sergio Romo, discrimination causes stir in Mexico

A recent column in Proceso magazine of Mexico City detailing Sergio Romo's story of experiencing discrimination on both sides of the United States-Mexico border has raise more than a few eyeballs south of that border.  The piece, written by Beatriz Pereira and sprinkled liberally with quotes from the free agent pitcher, traces Romo's ancestral roots, his ascension from a player considered too small to succeed into an All-Star and three-time world champion with the San Francisco Giants.  Throughout, it details the racism he says he has felt both in the USA and Mexico.  At least one columnist on the Puro Beisbol site has flatly called Romo a liar, stating that the right-handed reliever was treated well as a member of the Jaosco Charros this winter.

The 2,500-word column, originally ran January 14 but appears to have been deleted from the Proceso website since.  However, a number of other Mexican media picked up the story and carried it.  The column is carried in its translated form below, with a link to its original Spanish version on the UniMexicali website.  As with any translation from one language to another, there may be disprepancies between the two versions, but every attempt at preserving the accuracy from its Spanish version has been made with alterations limited to shifting words around to create a better flow within the English version.  I apologize in advance for any errors I've made working from a Google translation (which sometimes need translating themselves).  I've done the best I could do to be as accurate as possible. 


Mexico City (Beatriz Pereira / Revista Proceso) January 14 .- Sergio Romo has gone from jail to stardom in the U.S. as a consequence of racism.  One of the best players to have represented Mexico Romo was born in the United States but has never denied his origins. However, both countries have rejected him.  He was systematically beaten at the University of Alabama for his skin color, and discriminated to the south of the Rio Bravo as a "pocho" and "Chicano".
Only after winning three times the World Series was summoned to the Mexican national team.  "I had to achieve everything so that they turned to see me," he recalls.
Mexican pitcher Sergio Romo was invited to open the game that spring Friday, a privilege reserved for the best pitcher of the rotation for the University of North Alabama Lions.  The 2004 season was expiring. Romo climbed the hill knowing he needed seven strikeouts to tie the all-time school record.
When the second out of the fourth inning fell, the announcer of the stadium warned that the Mexican had already tied the mark.  With the next punch, Romo would have a place in history.  In all the games that he’d pitched that campaign, he had not tossed less than seven innings.  For a few moments, the 21-year-old considered the idea of ​​continuing to pitch and raise the bar to hard-to-reach heights.
But the shout from Mike Lane, the coach of the team, brought him back to reality.  Lane asked for time out and headed for the mound. Romo's smile faded when he heard, "Give me the ball."  The Mexican looked at his fellow players around him.  All with their heads down.
"No Mexican is going to break any record in my team because he does not deserve it," he said while holding out his right hand to wait for the ball.
"He turned to the dugout, called a pítcher who hadn’t warmed up and put him in.  I threw the ball over my head and left.  He disrespected me.  He went straight to where I was and tried to hit me.  If my teammates didn’t defend me, we would have fought there," says the player.
Romo is a Mexican-American right-handed pitcher who played eight seasons with the San Francisco Giants, the team that won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014.  He has three Major League championship rings, a feat no other Mexican has achieved.
In the second title, he was the key factor of the triumph with the three saves he obtained against the Tigers of Detroit.  In the fourth and final game, Romo retired the Tigers in order in the ninth inning with three strikeouts, the last one to Venezuelan slugger Miguel Cabrera.  In that World Series, he threw three perfect innings with five strikeouts.
That sporting success allowed him, for the first time, to be called to the Mexican National Team.  At the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Romo wore the green jersey of Mexico.  He fulfilled a longed-for dream: to be considered Mexican, just like any other, and represent the country where his parents and grandparents were born before moving to California to work in lettuce fields in the 1960s.
Evaristo Romo, Sergio's grandfather, was born in the Jalostotitlán municipality of the Altos Sur region of Jalisco. There he married Francisca, who was from Ameca, from the Valles region.
Evaristo was born with the stamp of a player.  He was a natural pitcher who threw a poisonous sinker in the dirt fields. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos discovered his talent and wanted to sign him.  But his father refused.  The warning was simple: In baseball there is nothing safe, get to work. Evaristo traded the baseballs for lettuce.
When the money from the crops was insufficient, Evaristo and Francisca gathered their six children and crossed the border through Mexicali. They settled in a mere 25 miles north in Brawley, California and the Imperial Valley, a region of hope for Mexicans. Among the splendid green fields crowned with lettuce, the six kids were helping their parents.
Francisco, Sergio's father, was barely 12 years old but he was already picking and chopping onions and alfalfa. In the summers, the Romos spent the school holidays in Salinas, California, very close to San Francisco, harvesting watermelons. There Francisco learned that there was a team dressed in black and orange called the Giants who played in an almost-new stadium, Candlestick Park.
If the lettuce helped him fill the belly, baseball fed the soul to Romo. The payoff of curling his spine six days a week was playing baseball on Sundays. It took him 20 minutes by car to cross that border.
The fields in Mexicali were waiting for them, Dad and Mom, boys and girls, all with bats and balls in a dusty diamond.  There nested the dreams of Francisco Romo of being a professional player.  He imagined going to college, then being selected in a draft and making his major league debut.
"He wasn’t given a chance to play, either.  My grandfather did not let him go.  He was taught that you have to choose safety, not to 'hope that a team gives me a chance.'  You have to earn enough to support the family.  My dad went to the Navy, and was there about five years; It taught him to work and he returned to Brawley," says the player.
On March 4, 1983, Sergio Francisco Romo was born, and 25 years later would make his debut in the Major Leagues with the San Francisco Giants.  Evaristo and Francisca ( "my nana Pancha," Sergio says) were his baptism godparents.
Sergito learned to walk. And his grandfather Romo put a baseball glove on his left hand, the Mexican brand Vázquez Hermanos, and filled his baseball ears. He explained the game.  He taught him to throw, as he said, the opposite. He raised his arm to learn the sinker. He attended all his games.
Sergio Romo's life was baseball. On his bike, he rode the streets of Brawley to school with his backpack on his back, a bag for baseball equipment. Balls, gloves and spikes were mixed among notebooks and pencils.
His 5’7” height and 139-pound weight were held against him. No one was betting on him. "You're little, you're a little chap.” You don’t throw hard, you don’t have speed. "  He grew tired of listening to it.
Romo says he always knew he could play baseball at a great level. At age 11, he promised his dad that he would go to college and get to the big leagues. He assured him that he would materialize his dreams. That promise was the engine that carried him.
Sergio Romo left the Imperial Valley with the desire to succeed, wearing a medal of the Sacred Heart that his nana Pancha removed from her neck after 30 years. In his head resounded the voices of those who told him that he would fail and return soon, as had all those who had gone before.
Brawley is a wild neighborhood and most of Romo's friends are no longer alive.  The drugs killed them.  Prior to his departure from Brawley Union High School, only two outstanding players had left: Sid Monge and Rudy Seanez, also of Latino origin.
The first two years of university studies for Sergio Romo were at Orange Coast College and Arizona Western College.  By the third year, his skills guaranteed him a scholarship at the University of North Alabama.  That great lift helped him to resist the loneliness and the distance from his family. The Romos who did everything and took care of him were far away.
Sergio learned to take care of himself. Despite his stature and weight and the speed of his pitches being below average, he had become an exceptional player. But outside the field, the mere fact of being Mexican made him an outcast.
"In Brawley, I didn’t know the dangers of the world.  I didn’t know they would treat me badly for being Mexican. Alabama was a place of white purity. They discriminated against me a lot. My teammates did talk to me, they gave me the opportunity to show that their perception of the Mexicans was wrong, but with the people where I was going to play I did not do well. They insulted me. They told me the worst things.
"I learned something that I didn’t know existed. I had never known racism or discrimination. Times came when I said 'I can’t do this,’' but I had to honor my word and I endured."
Sergio liked to go out with his classmates at parties and have fun. But he always ended up on the ground with blows raining on him. The whites did not like having a Mexican among them. Romo would greet or look at a girl, enough to be pushed and rushed, amid insults.
Romo says he was silent, sticking against the wall and raising his arms as a sign of not seeking trouble. When the first blows fell on him he defended himself, at least to run, but he almost always ended up lying in a pool of blood. He did not even dare go to a hospital for relief. He was afraid he would not be served because he was Mexican.
He remembers one game day, when the players were formed along the stripes of lime, with caps on the chest singing the national anthem. One of the opposing team's players shouted at him, "Hey, you're not from here. Sit down, this is not your national anthem, go home."
"He said it in very ugly words. And I saw who it was, thinking: 'It's number 35, it's number 35', and how I would start the game and hit him when he came up, to defend myself. I heard someone laughing and it was my coach.  After the anthem was over, the coach went to the mound and said, 'If you hit him, if you give back what he did to you, I'll take you out of the game.'  I asked him why he gave me a scholarship if he did not want me.  He took me for my ability, because he needed me, although he did not like me being Mexican. They don’t care if you're good, they just look at your skin. "
The player prefers to tot mention the coach's name. But in the record books at the University of North Alabama appears Mike Lane as the coach who has given the greatest success to that school. He is admired and respected.  The baseball field has carried his name since he retired in 2008 after a 25-year career. Among his greatest achievements are the five players who passed through before arriving in the majors. One of them, the last one, is Sergio Romo.
But he took the scholarship away after the incident that Romo had with Lane when he didn’t allow him to set the team's strikeout record. It didn’t matter that Romo obtained excellent grades in school or that he was an all-American player, that is, one of the best at his position in the nation.  "I went to my apartment and grabbed all my things. I had a Ford Thunderbird where I dumped everything, it was the old family car. I returned in 31 hours driving to Brawley myself. "
Romo caught up with one of his best friends, one with whom he had played in a summer league in Arizona the previous two years. He was part of the Mesa State College team and Romo asked him to ask the coach if he would give him a chance to play. Coach Chris Hanks contacted him.
"'I saw your numbers and I can not believe you have nowhere to play,” said Hanks. “What happened?”  Romo recalls, “I told him everything, the fights, one that got me two nights in jail because I fought at a fraternity party and police were called because 'the Mexican was to blame'. I told him what I did, good and bad. He said, 'Let me think about it.' He called me again, offered me a scholarship of 80% and said he would be happy to have me on his team.
"I broke six school records that season and four of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, a league that’s over a hundred years old.  I didn’t believe what was happening to me.  I started 15 games and finished 14-1. Each time I pitched, I imagined I was facing North Alabama. The bad things that happened made me better, gave me more strength.  When I won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the coach (Lane) sent me letters telling me he was proud of me.  With that he made me understand that he knows how he treated me, and he was telling me that he knows what he did to me. "
Next March, Sergio Romo will again wear the Mexican National Team uniform during the World Baseball Classic, whose group will play the first phase in Guadalajara at Estadio Charros de Jalisco of the Mexican Pacific League. The Charros hired Romo for the last month of the regular season that recently concluded. As they did not qualify for the playoffs, the pitcher is now reinforcing the Los Mochis Cañeros. Playing in Jalisco was the initiative of Romo himself.  In a video recorded in Japan, where he played a couple of friendly matches with the national team, Romo expressed his interest to play in the land of his grandparents, to return to where his roots are.
For years he has been questioned because he is not Mexican, because he was born in California. This offends him because he feels like a non-citizen. Although born in the United States, Americans do not consider him one of their own. And since he was not born in the national territory, he says that Mexicans do not end up accepting him.
"I've already paid for what it means to be Mexican. When I'm in the United States, I defend myself against them because they do not look at me as white, they look at me as Mexican and treat me the same. My roots, my traditions, my customs, are Mexican. I would like you not to call me pocho because it lowers morale, it takes away the pride of being who I am. I am no less Mexican because of dual nationality."
With the arrival of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, the player predicts that the condition of Mexicans, born or not in that country, will be complicated. But it also hurts that his own nationals marginalize him.
In Mexicali, "if they had to choose between a child born in Mexico and me, they always took the other.  I waited 20 years to say yes to the Mexican National Team.  I had to accomplish everything, to win my World Series rings so that they would turn me to see.  When I was a child, I did not understand it and it hurt a lot because I always heard them saying Pocho or Chicano."