While the Santa Fe Fuego may have been dubbed the "Legends of Last Place"—the worst team in the country's worst professional baseball league—every teammate still dreams of climbing the ladder and eventually making it to the Big Show.
Jerome Romero is the only player on the roster who was born and raised in Santa Fe. A reliever, Romero models his fastballs after the hard throws of Nolan Ryan. Now 22, he hopes to rise in the ranks of independent pro ball and eventually land a contract with a Major League Baseball-affiliated team.
SFR recently talked with Romero about his career and his dreams of rising in the ranks of the game. (The interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.)
I started playing at (age) 4 or 5. My uncles played baseball, growing up they taught me everything they knew, with fielding, pitching. My uncle John played [NCAA] Division One baseball, he got me hooked. My uncle was getting looked at before he blew out his arm during his senior year in college. He blew out his shoulder and had to get reconstructive surgery and just never came back.
I played growing up all the way to high school and I just chose to go to [the University of New Mexico] and get schooling. And I said I would walk on at UNM some time, I just never did it, I never tried to walk on. I did school. I’m still studying biology.
I got a call last December that open tryouts were here for this team for their first season. My mom called me, and I told her I hadn’t thrown a baseball for two and a half years, and she’s like, “
Just do it.
I’ll pay the fee for tryout.”
Once I tried out for this team last year, I realized how much I missed it, that feeling of being back on the mound, having complete control of the game. It just hit me again—I realized how much I loved the game and how much I missed it. I had to play it again. And that was after two and a half, three years of not touching a baseball.
Once I decided to play with [the Fuego], I lost all eligibility to play NCAA-regulated baseball. So me walking on at UNM couldn't happen, just because I already got paid to play. That was a big choice I had to make. A lot of my family were very supportive, but my uncle, who played college ball, he said, "If you're good enough to play pro ball, you could definitely have a chance to play D1 and possibly get looked at [by scouts] there better."
But I decided to just go for it here. It sounded great at the time.
After last season, I went back to [the University of New Mexico] for the fall, and I couldn't do it not playing baseball. Because it was just every day last summer playing ball, and I loved it so much. I did some research and found out as long as you play less than 90 days pro ball, lower than Single A [MLB-affiliated] baseball, you're still eligible to play junior college in the [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics]. So I called up Bill, our head coach, and I was like, "I'm looking for somewhere to play, I can still play junior college ball." And he made a phone call to where he used to coach at Mesa Community College in Arizona and talked to the coach.
It was another spur-of-the moment decision. I dropped all my UNM classes for the fall and I took off in October to Arizona this past year and played ball at Mesa Community College. It was hard to go from playing pro ball one season to going to junior college, which is mainly kids fresh out of high school. I went from being the youngest guy on a pro team to being the old man on a junior college team.
It was fun, but the knowledge these [Fuego players] have and the confidence they play with compared to playing junior college—those guys are still learning a lot and are still at that age where they think they know everything. Super stubborn, you know. It was a tough transition but I couldn't wait to get back.
The main reason I went to junior college was to hopefully get in the [MLB] draft. Other than that, playing here, all these guys are free agents. Which means if a scout sees you you're not going to get a huge signing bonus like you would in the draft. We're all free agents so usually they'll sign us. It's a tougher road from here, unless you're just an absolute stud, but then again you wouldn't be here if you were a stud.
I would love to get moved up to a higher independent league. It’s a higher level of baseball, so you’re getting more looks from more scouts. That’s the ultimate goal. I just gotta put up my numbers and do my job.
It's a tougher road from here, unless you're just an absolute stud. But then again, you wouldn't be here if you were a stud.