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Getting to take hacks against a pro

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Imagine being a high school baseball player and getting a chance to step in the box and get some rips against a professional pitcher.

For some local players, that is exactly the scenario playing out as spring training approaches.

Former Santa Fe pitcher Roby Romero, who played three years with the Demons before finishing his high school career at Oñate in Las Cruces, has been preparing for his fourth season in the Mexican League.

Romero, recovering from a bit of a leg injury, has been putting in work at Santa Fe’s E&G Baseball Academy, owned by his boyhood diamond chums Ian Farris and George Dellos.

And rather than simply throwing to a static catcher, he asked for some hitters to face.

“It’s good for them to see something that they won’t see in high school,” Romero said. “At first, they’re a little timid, not really sure of themselves, but the more they face me, they get more and more comfortable.

“When they go back to hitting against high school kids, it’s going to be really good for their confidence. And it’s good for them to see what it’s like at the professional level.”

Romero’s career took a fairly winding path to the pros. He went to Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, then played at NAIA school Oklahoma City University.

While in college, he also played summer baseball in the Jayhawks League in Kansas.

After completing his college eligibility – Romero has about one semester left to earn a degree majoring in criminal justice – he played for the Tucson Saguaros of the Pecos League, of which the Santa Fe Fuego are a part.

After a season in Tucson, Romero was picked up by the now-defunct Joplin (Mo.) Blasters of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

Then, out of the blue, Romero got a call from Rieleros de Aguascalientes in the Mexican League.

“It was interesting,” Romero said. “When I first got to Mexico, I didn’t speak that much Spanish. But when you’re there, you don’t really have an option, so you have to learn to speak Spanish.”

He also got to learn the game out of the bullpen alongside former major leaguer José Valverde, who Romero had followed closely during Valverde’s days pitching for Detroit, Houston and Arizona.

“He was my hero,” Romero said. “I was reliever and he was our closer. He had the most appearances and I was second in appearances. Me and him were right next to each other and he was cool. He gave me the nickname ‘Machete’ and it kind it stuck. It means someone with a good arm.”

Romero is not a fireballer in the true sense of the word, with his fastball usually sitting in the 88-90 mph range.

But when he couples that with a dancing slider and snapping curve, it makes Romero a challenge to hit. Especially when you’re a high school kid.

Santa Fe High senior outfield and pitcher Scott Laur got to face Romero for the first time several years ago during a previous Romeo stint at the academy, and was one of those hitting against him again this year.

“It’s a little intimidating,” Laur said.

The first time was something he’ll never forget.

“I was a freshman and I was little,” Laur recalled. “Everybody was saying don’t let him hit you. And sure enough, he ended up hitting me right in the head. He pegged me right in the head. I had a helmet on, it didn’t really hurt, but I felt awful for him. It was a scary experience facing him, but he’s a great pitcher.”

This time around, Laur said he felt somewhat more comfortable in the box.

“His slider velocity is incredible,” he said of Romero. “It feels like it’s going to hit behind your back and then breaks into the strike zone. It’s incredible. But I really feel more confident. I managed to get a hit off him, off the fastball.

“Just the confidence level going into the season knowing I’m facing and I’m able to take at bats against a professional pitcher, it makes me feel so much more confident. Just knowing that I can hit against a guy like Roby, makes me feel so much more confident. There are no Roby Romeros pitching in high school.”