In just a few short years, Blue Jays righthander Jordan Romano has gone from representing Canada in the Dominican Republic to suiting up for Team Italy in Mexico for the World Baseball Classic.
The 23-year-old from Markham, Ontario, finished his high school playing days in the red and white with the Canadian Junior National Team in 2010 and now, after three years of college ball, two professional seasons, and more than a year away from throwing because of Tommy John surgery, Romano is in Mexico wearing red, green and white with a squad hailing from his father Joseph’s home country.
“It’s kind of wild, but that’s how it goes,” the 6-foot-4, 200-pound hurler said. “When I was playing for Team Canada it was pretty awesome because you’re representing your country. I was born in Canada and raised there and that was awesome. I went on one trip with them and we were playing down it the Dominican, and it was really cool to be representing Canada all the way down in the Dominican.
“And I’m excited now to represent Italy in Mexico. Baseball gives you those awesome experiences that you never really would have otherwise, so I’m really excited to be representing Italy now down in Mexico. It’s kind of crazy.”
With Canada set for righty arms, Romano’s home and native land didn’t have any spots up for grabs as roster construction for the WBC got started. When the former 10th-round pick of his hometown Blue Jays heard that he might have a chance with the European squad, he jumped at the chance.
“The opportunity came and I took it,” Romano said. “My agent Michael Bonanno (of JGM) got this going. He and the Italian GM (Christian Mura, who was also the general manager of Bonanno’s team when he played in Italy) knew each other. Bonanno reached out to Team Italy’s camp and told them about me, and I guess I was a good fit so they put me on the team.
“My dad was actually born in Italy, and my grandparents are from Italy, and my aunts. My dad came over when he was five, as well as my grandparents, 45 years ago probably. So half my family’s Italian, so strong Italian heritage.”
Excited to represent his family, what appealed most to Romano was the opportunity to get into games for Team Italy, and make an impact for the squad while competing on a much larger stage than he’s ever been on.
“I’ll actually have a spot and I’ll be pitching, and not just buried somewhere in the bullpen and not really pitching,” Romano said. “It’s a good thing for me, development-wise too, because you do miss a lot of spring training. I wanted to make sure as well that I wouldn’t just be going there to see everything. I actually want to pitch and compete, and it will be fun to compete against the best players in the world. It will be a really good opportunity for me.”
Gathering his Italian documents and the information necessary to be a part of the team, “just in case,” Romano wasn’t assured of his spot with the squad until the final rosters were announced on MLB Network’s reveal show.
“About three weeks (before the announcement) there were talks about it,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be on the team or not. They were still kind of deciding, and at that point I was getting my dad’s birth certificate, and my grandparents’ birth certificates and stuff like that, so it was a little stressful. I had to get all those documents in just so that if they did choose me all the paperwork would be good. I had a pretty strong idea that I was going to be on the team but honestly I didn’t find out officially until the final rosters came out.”
Knowing that there was a possibility that he would be throwing competitively in games at the beginning of March, Romano headed down to Toronto’s spring training home in Dunedin early, so that he could ready himself and formulate a plan with the Blue Jays staff.
“It was definitely different because if I was on a regular schedule I would probably be pitching in spring training games about three weeks later than I would be pitching at the WBC,” Romano said. “So I got down here (to Dunedin) early and Jeff Ware, our pitching coordinator, and I sat down and hashed out a plan on how to prepare me the best I can to actually compete full effort in games. I started throwing a couple weeks early, my bullpens, and now I have live (batting practice), and then I actually (threw) in the big league spring training game on the 26th.”
Heading into just his third pro season, with one away from the field to recover from his elbow surgery, Romano posted a 2.11 ERA in 14 starts and 72.2 innings with 27 walks and 72 strikeouts in his return last year. Though excited to return to the mound, there were aspects of his performance that the righty is looking to improve this season.
“I was happy with how the season went, but I’m always thinking what can I do better?” Romano said. “I could have done things better. I don’t want to get complacent. I was throwing pretty well and I was feeling good but then what can I do to be better, have better numbers? But I was happy with how the season went.
“This year I’m working on pitch development. My changeup was my third best pitch by far in Lansing, so I’ve been working on my changeup a lot because I want to keep climbing the ladder, as a starter especially, I’ll need that third pitch that I can throw for strikes any time. So I’ve been working on the changeup a lot and it’s coming along well. It can be better but I’m happy with how it’s come along.”
After trying out several different grips and messing around with a splitter, Romano has landed on throwing a four-seam circle changeup that he has found some satisfaction with, and continues to throw more and more as he gets more comfortable with it.
“Darold Knowles was my rehab coordinator and we had a good bond, and Jeff Ware was my pitching coach in Lansing and now he’s the pitching coordinator, so when I’ve been out here throwing I’ve been asking them what worked well for them when they were throwing it,” Romano said. “So I’ve got a new grip that all three of us came up with that I would use. They told me to stick with this one, even if it doesn’t feel good at first, so I’ve stuck with the grip we talked about and I’ve been throwing it a lot more, even playing catch and in my bullpens now, making it a priority.”
With Team Italy and the WBC atop Romano’s priority list right now, there is some question about who the young prospect might choose in a few more years if both his home country and his now-adopted one come calling for the next tournament.
“I haven’t really thought that far ahead,” Romano said. “It would be an honor to play with both, and I guess I would just have to make up my mind when the time comes. Team Italy is giving me this chance and they’re trusting me . . . I’ll just have to look at it and see what’s a better opportunity, but right now it’s Team Italy all the way.”