This article is part of a series published in partnership with the Boyle Heights Beat.
By Lesly Juarez
When reporters ask 27-year-old Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero where he’s from, he insists that they include “East” before Los Angeles. It’s not only where he grew up, but where his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player began.
“I bleed East L.A.,” said Romero. “I want people to know where I come from. I am not ashamed of it.”
For thousands of kids in East Los Angeles, a predominantly Mexican-American suburb of Los Angeles County, Romero is more than a professional athlete; he also represents the promise and hope that anyone from this community can succeed on a national stage.
Roosevelt High senior and baseball player Luis Peraza, met Romero during his freshman year. “It was a really great feeling knowing that you just met one of the best players that comes from East L.A.,” said Peraza.
“So, that inspires me to stay in school, go to college, get an education and a career in baseball,” said Peraza.
Last year, Romero attended his alma mater’s annual East L.A. Classic game as an honorary captain. At six feet and 215 pounds, Romero fits well into his Blue Jays uniform. But his athletic build isn’t what got him noticed; it was his focus and work ethic.
“He is one of the hardest workers I’ve had in all these years I’ve coached,” said Scott Pearson, Romero’s high school baseball coach. “His work ethic was amazing, and I really believe that came from his loving family.”
Drafted in 2005
That strong work ethic has certainly paid off for Romero. After high school, Romero played for California State University, Fullerton and was the first pitcher drafted— sixth overall— in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Romero attributes his success to his parents. His father Ricardo, a truck driver, and mother Sandra, a school bus driver, immigrated to the United States from Mexico. “My parents have been with me every part of the way. They’re the reason why I wear the Blue Jay uniform today,” said Romero.
Like many working class parents in East L.A., Romero’s parents worked long hours. But they made it a priority to nurture and support their children’s dreams.
“Our life was to go to work, pick them up [from school], go home, check homework, and go to the ballpark,” said Sandra Romero. “As a parent, you teach them the right path, and their job as an individual is to take that path if they want.”
Pearson has coached children in inner-city schools for 24 years, and says “Unfortunately, you don’t see many families with that kind of support.”
“He comes from a very close-knit, loving family and that foundation is what makes up who he is,” said Pearson.
A Family Tradition
Romero’s parents met on the baseball field where his maternal grandfather coached his father at a local park league. At the age of four, Romero began playing Little League baseball at Salazar Park, just a few blocks from his home. His siblings also played baseball, including his younger brother, who pitched on the Roosevelt team. Today, his youngest sibling, 11-year-old Vanessa, plays softball.
Romero’s father continues to coach Little League baseball in East L.A.
In late 2011, Romero pledged $100,000 to the Jays Care Foundation to support children in need. His commitment to both Toronto and East L.A. was recognized with a nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award, an honor given to the athlete most committed to his community and team. “It was an honor to be mentioned among superstars in the Major League,” said Romero.
But, he added, “For me it’s just a pleasure seeing kids from my community succeed. It’s just an honor to be a part of the East L.A. community.”
This article was produced for Boyle Heights Beat, which features the stories and blogs of community members in the Latino immigrant neighborhood of Boyle Heights, in Los Angeles, as well as the articles produced by the youth reporting staff of the Boyle Heights Beat, a bilingual quarterly newspaper and a project of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and La Opinion.