By Dustin Saracini
Canadian Baseball Network
After a torrid start earned him Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honours for April, London, Ont., native Jamie Romak was sold to the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization on May 6. The Canadian Baseball Network recently had the opportunity to play 15 questions with the Baseball Canada alumnus and former Los Angeles Dodger and Arizona Diamondback who has taken his talents overseas for the second time in his professional career.
CBN: Before we dive into your professional career, let’s talk about your roots. What do you remember about growing up in London, Ont. -- a hockey city? Going to high school at Lucas Secondary? Did you ever think this career was possible coming from Canada?
JR: I had a very fortunate upbringing in London. I had a good group of friends in the neighbourhood and we spent all our time outside playing sports. Two of my best friends went onto play some pro hockey and we really pushed each other competitively. I preferred baseball right away and knew that I would make it to the big leagues one day.
CBN: Any good memories from Labatt Park? Playing at Western University myself it was always an incredible diamond to play on.
JR: I did play some games at Labatt Park in high school. It's an awesome spot with a lot of history. I don't think people in London really appreciate what they have in that stadium.
CBN: You work at Centre Field Sports in the off-season, could you tell us a little about Adam Hall and what makes him such a talented shortstop?
JR: Adam Hall is a good baseball player. He has an intellect that suits a middle of the diamond player as well as a leader. He's a performance guy as well, which is a big separator in my mind. His bad days seem to always include a hit and a stolen base or two. Physically, he has a live body with all the tools. He wants it, I wouldn't bet against him.
CBN: How instrumental has Lonnie Goldberg been in your life? First, he drafted you when he was with the Braves and you were the top Canadian high schooler selected, then you saw him again when you played at triple-A in the K.C. organization, now he's the scouting director with the Royals.
JR: Lonnie and I have a relationship that has meant a lot to me over the years. He, Roy Clark and Dayton Moore were the guys who really believed in me and gave me a chance to have a professional career. Lonnie had a young family at the time but would always find time to meet me in Guelph to throw me BP and have me over for dinner. We stay in close contact and it hasn't surprised me at all how well he's done in the scouting world.
CBN: It seems like you’ve done whatever you can to create your own opportunities in your 13-year career, whether it’s playing in the minors, for the Canadian National Team, or over in Japan and Korea. Has that always been your mindset?
JR: My mindset was to play in the big leagues. As I've gotten older, the game has presented different opportunities and I've had to make decisions on what's best for my enjoyment of the game, family life and financial security. In the end, I've been playing baseball since I was four years old and that's something I'm really grateful for.
CBN: Most recently with the El Paso Chihuahuas you posted numbers in April people haven’t seen in a decade -- earning you PCL player of the month. (11 HR, 21 extra-base hits, 79 total bases). How comfortable are you at the plate this year?
JR: I actually really struggled early in Spring Training and through the WBC. I could feel I wasn't right so when I got back with the Padres I did some work with their hitting coach and got back on track. Numbers-wise, hitting comes in waves and I just think I started to come on the last two weeks of spring and it carried into the season.
CBN: Speaking of the Chihuahuas, you’ve played on some interesting team names with your time in the minors. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Altoona Curve and the Hickory Crawdads to name a few .. your favourite name?
JR: I really enjoyed my time in Reno so I'll go with the Reno Aces.
CBN: El Paso fans were sad to hear of your release, but there’s a bigger picture you have to worry about. What appeals to you most about playing in Japan, and with your new team, the SK Wyverns, in Korea? Does your family get to travel with you? If not, how difficult is it to leave home?
JR: I've found that I've never got to choose the timing of my opportunities. In both cases when I've left to play in Asia, being in the big leagues or getting back, was also imminent. But it's a choice, there's some risk involved in being a bench player in the big leagues especially when you have option years remaining. So I've felt that playing in Asia has been a more solid option as far as playing everyday and having contracts guaranteed. My family is at home right now and it's been difficult but they are coming to Korea soon and I think they'll really like it.
CBN: What exactly is a Wyvern?
JR: I don't have an answer for that yet but I'm hoping by the end of this year I'll have some clarity.
CBN: What are you most looking forward to while travelling to an entirely different culture to play baseball for the second time in your career?
JR: I'm looking forward to playing on a big stage, playing in front of a lot of fans and learning more about another culture. So far it's really been amazing. My team has been so welcoming, I feel like I've been here all year.
CBN: You look at some players that have had success in Japan/Korea and then come back to the big leagues, most recently we saw the rise of Eric Thames after honing his game in the KBO. Is this in your plans?
JR: I'm not sure I really make plans with my career anymore. It's hard to do. I didn't have a thought of coming to Korea this year and here I am, only a month into the season. I'm just having fun and wherever that takes me is cool with me.
CBN: Taking a step back, this is the Canadian Baseball Network, and you’ve represented the country countless times, including the gold medal Pan Am team in 2011 and, most recently, this past year at the WBC. Where do you measure being in a dugout full of Canucks as you reflect on your career?
JR: It gives me goosebumps every time I think about playing for Canada. It's definitely an experience that is bigger than any individual player. I think as I get older it will mean even more to me and the guys I've played with are lifelong friends.
CBN: How important is the Junior National Team when it comes to the progression of young players in Canada?
JR: The Junior team is a great program for young players. The top high school kids that are drafted have so much more experience under their belts in that rookie ball atmosphere. If you look at some of the young Canadian talent both in pro ball and high end D1 schools, they are just a lot further along in their development then I remember being at that age.
CBN: The future of Canadian baseball is in the hands of young guns Josh Naylor, Tyler O’Neill, Dalton Pompey, Nick Pivetta and then some ... what do Canadian ball fans have to look forward to with these players?
JR: Those young players are fearless. I was so impressed with Naylor and I know the Padres are really happy to have him. I’m excited to see where their careers take them and I know from being around the amateur level in the off season that there are a lot more coming behind them.
CBN: Last question, which four people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? And please explain why.
JR: I would invite my Dad, my Papa, George Brett and Mark Grace. I lost both my Dad and my Papa, my Mom's dad, and miss them both everyday. George Brett and Mark Grace are two of the best storytellers I've ever met and I'm really glad I spent time around both of them. I think it would be a blast.