SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Roemon Fields wouldn't be playing center field and batting leadoff for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League if not for the support and influence of his grandmother, Rose Pierce, and his brother, Anthony. The 24-year-old Blue Jays farmhand, who reached Triple-A to end his first full season as a pro, would instead be delivering mail in his hometown of Seattle.
Fields' rapid ascent through Toronto's minor league system comes after a past so unbelievable that movie studios would probably reject a proposed script about his baseball career as just being too inconceivable, even by Hollywood standards. In addition to the prodding by his grandmother to accept his first pro contract, there's also the story of a mystery man knocking on Fields' front door asking him to play a game in which he had relatively little previous experience.
Pretty rare, right? Here's the Roemon Fields story.
Growing up in Seattle, the athletic Fields barely played baseball during his high school years, instead starring as a point guard on the Rainier Beach High basketball team while also spending his autumn months playing football. It wasn't until after his high school graduation that Fields received a visit from the mystery man asking him if he was interested in playing baseball at nearby Yakima Valley Community College.
“A man just knocked on my door—a college dude—and said, 'Do you want to play baseball?'" according to Fields. “I said, 'I haven't played baseball in a long time.' That's what started me . . . It was like a miracle, my grandma told me—a random guy knocked on my door. His name was Coach Wilson—I forgot his first name."
Fields added that he still has no idea how the mystery man found him, but the mystery man remembers. He's Ken Wilson, a former coach at Central Washington and high school principal who had just been named head coach at Yakima Valley CC when he found Fields. As Wilson said via email, he got a tip on Fields from a former player, Gerald Smiley, who has been active as a coach and associate scout in the Pacific Northwest over the years. Wilson and Smiley went to see Fields, who was playing for an RBI program team that summer, and liked what he saw.
The next morning, Wilson said, he got up early, drove to Fields' grandmother's house and met both his grandmother and brother. He convinced both brothers to attend Yakima Valley. After two years at Yakima Valley, Fields was more interested in furthering his education than continuing his baseball career. Marcus McKimmy, Wilson's assistant and then successor at Yakima Valley CC, suggested he head to far-away Kansas to walk on at NAIA school Bethany College.
“I was doing it more or less for school," Fields said. “A coach from Kansas said, 'Do you want to keep playing?' I said, 'If I get to further my education.'"
Fields excelled on the field at Bethany while also competing as a 60-meter indoor sprinter on the school's track and field team. In his first season in 2012, Fields led the team with a .450/.485/.656 slash line and 31 stolen bases, followed by a senior year in which he batted .348/.419/.511 with 28 stolen bases. He received some interest from the Kansas City Royals after his junior year, but went undrafted.
“(The Royals) told me I was too little and not fast enough," Fields, at the time listed at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, said. “I was kind of dumb to the game and I just thought I was."
Fields was just ready to get on with life and use his education after his time at Bethany, securing a job with the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail in Seattle after selling hats at a Lids store. He really didn't expect to play baseball again until McKimmy re-connected with him.
McKimmy was coaching a USA-Northwest Athletic Association of Colleges team that was preparing to play in the World Baseball Challenge, an international tournament that was played in Prince George, British Columbia. He wanted Fields to play center field for him.
“I told him, 'No, I'm done with baseball," Fields said before his brother convinced him to take McKimmy's offer. Fields hadn't touched a bat since leaving Bethany, and the day before he left for the tournament he was scrambling to find a glove and cleats. In eight games against teams from Canada, Japan, Taiwan and Cuba, Fields batted .379 with three stolen bases. That was enough to draw the interest of Matt Bishoff, a scout from the Toronto Blue Jays.
When Bishoff asked him if he was interested in playing pro ball, Fields replied, “Probably not. Not really." But the scout said he'd send an offer in the mail anyway. Fields' grandmother, listed on his Bethany College bio page as his greatest influence, convinced him to accept the offer in August 2013. After spending time in extended spring training in 2014, Fields was off to Vancouver to begin his pro career.
Remarkably, that season was the first time in his life that he had played baseball during the summer months, according to Fields.
At 23, Fields was old for the short-season Northwest League, but with less baseball experience than most of the younger players there. While batting .269/.338/.350 for the Canadians, Fields led the league with 48 stolen bases, shattering the Vancouver franchise record. His nearest competitor that year was teammate Tim Locastro with 32.
Fields jumped two levels to high Class A Dunedin of the Florida State League to start his first full professional season, batting .269/.312/.348 in 66 games before being promoted to Double-A New Hampshire where he hit .257/.321/.292 in 49 games. He finished the year with six games with Triple-A Buffalo. Fields wound up with a total of 46 steals in 60 attempts combined.
There's a big difference in the quality of pitching at each of the three levels in which Fields played in 2015, and he had to make adjustments with each promotion.
“High A was more fastballs than Double-A," Fields said. “(In) Triple-A, it's more offspeed. They know how to really work the count and being a better pitcher."
Fields is continuing his crash course in baseball in the Arizona Fall League. He knows that he needs to find ways to get on base more often in order to better utilize his plus-plus speed.
“When I'm on base I like to steal and that creates havoc," Fields said. “A pitcher might pitch a fastball and give the hitters a better pitch to hit. When I'm on base, it's an advantage to our team."
Scouts covering the AFL see Fields' ceiling as that of a fourth outfielder, remarking that he doesn't get on base enough to be a regular.
That may not be the case, according to Salt River hitting coach John Tamargo Jr., who also coached Fields this summer in Dunedin.
“Right now it's a little early in his career," Tamargo said. “I wouldn't count him out to be an everyday outfielder. He has the tools. He puts the ball in play, he can run, and he plays a really good center field. He has a bright future ahead of him."
Tamargo also likes how Fields' attitude rubs off on everyone around him.
“He's just an excitable kid to be around," Tamargo said. “He's always got a smile on his face. He comes to work every day and he loves playing the game. He plays the game really hard . . . guys in the clubhouse, guys in the dugout, they feed off that stuff, because when your leadoff hitter's out there busting his tail and playing the game the right way, guys feed off of that stuff."
Fields is looking forward to taking what he's learning in the AFL into next season. This time he won't need prodding from his grandmother to keep his career going. But there's no questioning the influence she's had on his life, from helping to give him his name (Roemon is a combination of her name, Rose, and Fields' mother's name, Monica) to developing his favorite hobby, cooking.
“Whoever's in my house or in my grandma's house," Fields said, “if they want some food I'll cook it. I love to cook."
• Orioles righthander Dylan Bundy was assigned last week to the Peoria Javelinas roster, replacing righthander Jon Keller. The fourth overall pick by the Orioles in 2011 was regarded early in his career as one of the top prospects in baseball, reaching the major leagues before the end of his first professional season in 2012. Recurring shoulder injuries have slowed Bundy's career, limiting him to only 17 games in the three seasons since his ascent to the big leagues. He started eight games at Double-A Bowie in 2015, with a 3.68 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 innings.
• Righthander Trevor Williams was transferred from the Peoria roster to Glendale after being traded by the Marlins to the Pirates over the weekend. The Arizona State University product spent most of the 2015 season with Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League before finishing the regular season with Triple-A New Orleans.
• Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar, who has missed most of the last two seasons with shoulder woes, returned to the field with the Surprise Saguaros on Thursday. The switch-hitter from Curacao doubled in his first at-bat and then hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the top of the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings. Profar, who previously got in some games during instructional league after playing 12 games for low Class A Hickory and Double-A Frisco late in the summer, is limited to DH duties for now due to the shoulder issues.