I know that Ricky Romero is looking forward to the off season. After the year he’s had, he could really use it. I salute him for soldiering on despite what I’m sure felt like his entire baseball world crumbling down, into a crushing load, which in turn nested atop his shoulders for nearly the entire second half. Only an absolute idiot fan, the kind who think’s the men in uniform are nothing more than machines responsible for their entertainment, could look at the season Ricky has endured and remain oblivious to how much fortitude it takes to be a Big Leaguer who fails. Just thinking about the hell he went through this year makes me want to rub some dirt on a bruise and try to talk it off.
None the less, I’m proud of Ricky. Maybe not as a player, but definitely as a person. I know I’ve made cases for why Ricky should have been demoted earlier in the season, back when his mechanics were (and they still are a tad) erratic and his losses were pilling up. Not because I think less of Ricky, that he wasn’t or isn’t a Big Leaguer, or I wanted to devalue him. No, to me it was apparent that he wasn’t right, and I wanted to see him go someplace he could fix it. I believe that if the Jays triple A squad was in Buffalo that might have happened. It was a purely mechanical observation and he could have benefited from an environment where his results didn’t effect things like future contracts, draft picks, and arbitration. Again, that was simply my opinion, one based in a truth that a player and a person, while linked, are very separate things.
Now the end of the season is here and with it comes the hindsight that helps puts a season of tribulation in perspective. Ricky has a lot to work on this off season, and I’m sure he knows it. He’ll tune up his mechanics and iron out all the bumps. He’s to young, talented, and competitive not too. Plus, there are a lot of people around him committed, both financially and professionally, to helping him. But one thing that I don’t think he’s going to have to work on during the winter is how to be a classy athlete. I think he nailed that this year. And, as I’ve said on many occasions during the life cycle of Baseball Central @ Noon, it will pay dividends for him and the team in the near future.
You don’t really know what kind of a person someone is until you see them at their worst. I’d say you saw some of the worst of Ricky this year—probably the worst you’ll ever see of him in his career. I know there was that one incident on Twitter when he called out people for hating on him, but, frankly, that pales in comparison to what some athletes have done during rough stretches that weren’t as severe or long lasting as Ricky’s. Through it all he faced interviewers, waited for the media after games, and answered the requests for radio spots. In short, he took it like man.
People talk about what it means to be a leader in a clubhouse. Everyone likes to point to the best performers on a team, citing inspiration and achievement. However, if you look at life outside of baseball, you see more than achievement. You see a whole world lead and inspired by those who overcome great obstacles and continue to press on. There will always be a reverence for those who get knocked down, then get right back up; those refuse to quit, who’d rather be broken then concede defeat. This season Ricky Romero was one such an athlete.
Going forward, while the talking-heads speculate on whether or not Ricky’s numbers will return to a form that can help the Jays survive in the blood bath that is the AL East, I will look beyond that. I will look to the character of a team because I know it’s bigger than the math. How do the Orioles, with their negative run differential, win in the AL East? How do the A’s, with their underfunded program, topple the titans of infinite bank accounts? Because of the humanity under the jersey, the unquantifiable peaks and valleys of life bearing fruit that can rally under pressure, fight against long odds, and believe when others do not.
Next year the Jays will wrestle with the comfort they’ve developed with failure. Oh, sure, they’ll tell you that they hate it, that there ready for a championship, that they won’t accept anything less… but you can grow accustom to failure. You can learn it like any routine, and slip back into it when things start to go bad. Even more so when you’re getting paid lots of money regardless of if you win or not; when the team’s failure isn’t linked directly to your performance; when you can blame it on things like injury or inexperience, in a town that doesn’t look at your sport as the number one sport.
That’s why it’s always good to have a player on the team that takes failure personally. Someone who has a score to settle with the game and everyone who doubted he could hack it.
That’s why it’s good to have someone who’s been to hell and back, and will gladly go there again if that’s what it takes to win.