By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
It was set to be a time of joy and celebration.
Instead Mattingly Romanin (Burlington, Ont.) was left experiencing the other end of the emotion spectrum.
Romanin was looking forward to receiving his 2017 Northwest League Championship ring he won as a member of the Vancouver Canadians. He never made it to the annual Blue Jays Awards Ceremony as he was released the day before the event was to take place.
“Starting and finishing last year in Vancouver had earned me one of those rings,” Romanin said. “I had been waiting all winter for my first championship ring.”
He knows he will get his ring in time but that doesn't make things any easier. When discussing missing the ceremony Romanin didn't mince words.
“That one hurt,” he said. “ I just felt I missed out on an a final opportunity to relive that magical year with guys I'll never forget.”
It also didn’t help that the excitement was building leading up to the day.
“I had heard the week before we were getting our rings the following week so the excitement grew,” he said. “Having to watch guys I went to battle with, grind through Extended Spring Training, then perform all summer and be the last team standing, show off their rings on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter while I'm sitting on my couch back home still trying to process what had happened was disappointing.”
What might have made the news even more shocking and heart wrenching was the fact that he thought he was in the clear and could set his focus on the upcoming season.
“In previous years, releases were always made on Mondays during Spring Training,” he said. “So that week after I made it past Monday there was a big, deep breath of relief.”
Not so fast.
Romanin went about his business as usual on that that Tuesday morning. He went to the clubhouse and made his way to the kitchen like he had time and time again.
“I was tapped on the back by our field coordinator, Eric Wedge,” he said. “ He told me to come up to Gil Kim's (Director of Player Development) office.”
As a minor leaguer who had been in professional baseball for three seasons he had seen players come and go. He knew what Wedge, a former American League Manager of the Year in 2007 with the Cleveland Indians, meant when he asked him to go visit Kim.
“That's the moment I knew my playing time with the Blue Jays had come to an end.”
He had seen many reactions from others players being released. Everything from tears of disappointment and heartbreak to some being glad they can move on to other things. Romanin believed he was going to take the news well, all things considered.
He was wrong.
“I felt like I was about to take the news really well and professional but once Gil had said ‘We are giving you your release’ , it was a punch to the gut,” he said. “Once I heard the word release, confirming my first chance at chasing my dream has come to an end, I couldn't help but want to cry.”
He was able to hold it together as the paperwork was filed before heading back to his locker and out of the clubhouse. Once he was out the doors with no one around he was finally able to let go his true emotions.
One of the first calls he made was to his father Mal, a long-time and well respected employee of the Jays. If anyone could relate to the emotions his son was feeling it was him. Mal Romanin had been let go from his position within the Jays organization last fall when they decided to part ways with 23 employees.
“I mean even before my Dad started with the Blue Jays, he was a driving force behind my athletic career and what it takes to be successful in sports,” the younger Romanin said. “As for his reaction to the news, we always had a saying throughout my pro ball career that he learned from Tony LaCava, ‘you just need to survive’.”
After he left the clubhouse that day, he informed his dad despite his best efforts, he didn't survive.
“I went to call him and he didn't pick up, so I just texted him ‘I didn't survive this one’,” he said. “Once we talked, it was just a ‘Well this sucks, I know the feeling’ kind of conversation.”
Along with his father, Romanin knows he owes a lot to his mother for her time and unconditional support.
“I also have to mention my mom here, as well,” he said. “Especially in my early years, the hard work it took to get me where I needed to be with two other children having their responsibilities was inspiring. She has and I know will always be supportive in my decisions and actions. So I would just like to say to both of them, thank you.”
Romanin knows what ultimately led to his release. He doesn’t question his effort over his career.
“Honestly, if there is one thing I would do differently, it's play better,” he said. “I really don't believe I left anything on the table effort-wise.”
His .202 average split between Short Season A Vancouver and low-A Lansing may not have been what he wanted but Romanin feels he brought a lot to the table as a player and teammate.
“My situation definitely wasn't to my advantage, having a rough year statistically last year, being a 25-year-old competing for a job in the lower minors where most players are 19-23,” he said. “But having said that, I felt like I still had a lot in my corner to help keep me around. Being a very versatile defender playing both the infield and outfield, a tireless worker (which all players believe they are), and a great clubhouse guy, which anyone who has spent a season in a locker room in any sport call tell you how important that is. Ultimately in professional sports, you have to produce and I wasn't on the field”
Being a strong defender was something he learned from working with former Blue Jay and 16 year big leaguer John McDonald during the days when his father worked for the team. He praises McDonald for taking the time to work with him when he was a young ballplayer.
“When I was younger John McDonald was a big one for me,” he said. “He would take me out and work on my defence whenever he could. It was really awesome for him to go out of his way to do that for me. Once I got into pro ball, it was more the guys that came down to Florida on rehab and when you’re around them you just try to act like a sponge. Just listening to guys like Devon Travis when taking ground balls at second, or Chris Colabello and Josh Donaldson talk about hitting. You just try to listen and take as much as you can and apply it to my own game. That’s how you get better at that level. You listen to guys that are there and having success at the level you want to be at and learn how to get there.”
The former Guelph Minor Baseball, Ontario Terrier and Chicago State University Cougar standout reflects fondly on his professional career even though the wound of being released is still fresh.
There are a lot of moments he looks back on with great pride, including the day he was drafted.
Both his first hit and his first home run had extra special meaning.
“My first pro hit I got leading off the ninth inning to break up a perfect game,” he said. “My first pro home run came a year later in the form of a grand slam on Canada Day in Vancouver.”
Or what about a midseason promotion? Those are always exciting.
“My first in-season promotion, which is a weird feeling,” he said. “Coming out of a game where I am 1 for 1 with a walk, and my manager, Rich Miller, tells me I'm done and to go pack my bags, I was heading to Lansing. Watching the rest of that game from the dugout knowing I was leaving the next day was a weird but exciting feeling.”
And of course winning the Northwest League championship.
“There is no better feeling then knowing everything you have worked for all off-season, Spring Training, Extended Spring Training, the regular season, and the playoffs has payed off.”
Romanin enjoys playing the game and embraced the preparation that comes along with it. His future in the game is now unclear but he knows one thing.
“I still feel like I have a lot to give on the playing side,” he said. “What my options are right now I'm not exactly sure, I just know I want to keep playing.”