* Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) drafted by the Atlanta Braves by scout Lonnie Goldberg from Mike Lumley's dominant London Badgers team in 2003 finally made the majors this season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was honored Saturday at the 13th annual Baneball Canada banquet. .....
By Alexis Brudnicki
Jamie Romak was always going to be a big leaguer.
It was just a matter of time before the 29-year-old utility player’s hard work paid off and he could add the illustrious feat to his resume for the first time. A matter of 12 seasons and more than a thousand games in the minors, to be exact, before the Los Angeles Dodgers promoted Romak to The Show last season.
“I’ve known Jamie since he was 17 and obviously he’s different then than he is now, but he always had that thought that, ‘I’m a big leaguer and I’m going to find a way to do it – no matter what path I go, whether it’s 12 years in the minor leagues, I have to do what I’ve got to do,’” Romak’s friend and colleague Adam Stern said.
“He knew it was never going to be easy. Early in your career when you’re young you think everything is just meant to go to the top, but you always knew that he had that never-say-never attitude.”
Romak’s attitude has most impressed those who have been around him throughout the entirety of his professional career so far. Another longtime friend and coworker of the London, Ont., native, Chris Robinson, made his first appearance in the big leagues nine years after his pro start, but finds a huge difference between their similar situations.
“It was never a surprise for him and he honestly believes it,” Robinson said. “Guys say that, and I can sit here and say that about my career, but I was as shocked as anybody that I got called up. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like in previous years I should have, but for him it was never a doubt that he was going to play in the big leagues. And it’s still never a doubt that he’s going to go back to the big leagues.
“I’ve always really respected Jamie for that because that was the determining factor. He’s had a lot of rough spots, with injuries and not getting the love that he should have. It would have been really easy for him to shut it down but he always believed in his process. It just took longer than maybe someone else, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to have a good big-league career.”
Though Romak might have always known that he would reach the highest level in the game, when it happened he called it, “a bit of a shock,” continuing to say that, “even if you believe that you’ll get there, it still comes as a shock when it actually happens.”
The moment it finally did happen, with Romak heading to Dodger Stadium for his debut at the end of May last year, it quickly became the highlight of his ongoing career.
“I’m most proud of getting to the big leagues,” he said. “Like any kid, I look back to throwing a ball against the wall and dreaming of playing in the big leagues in certain situations. You look back from the humble beginnings that we came from – playing in the sandlot in London, Ontario, and playing local baseball with your friends because you love to do it – and to finally reach that stage where now you’re on the world stage against the best players in the world, it’s incredible. It really is.
“For us guys who have been fortunate enough to get there, that’s truly a dream come true. I’m very fortunate but I’ve worked really hard for it. And you get a little taste of it, you try to get back as much of it as you can.”
For his latest accomplishment, the Canadian national team veteran was honoured with Baseball Canada’s special achievement award on Saturday at the organization’s annual banquet and fundraiser, the award presented by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“Jamie’s success brings a tear to everybody’s eyes,” Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, said. “It’s so well-deserved – the opportunity to step on the field and play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and get to the pinnacle of the game – and to do what he’s done and really, to use that word, grind it out over the years is super.
“Probably for Jamie he would articulate that. He got to a point in his professional career where he created an ease around the game and an ease around hitting, and became a real pro and obviously was rewarded for it. It’s great to see, and the award is our small token of a tip of the cap to him, and it’s bringing a smile to all of our faces.”
Inking a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks and joining his sixth different major-league affiliate just as the free-agent signing period opened up in the fall, Romak was honoured to be recognized by the one organization he has always called home.
“It’s very special,” he said at the 13th annual Baseball Canada banquet. “Obviously you see all the guys in the room; there are so many good players. To be a part of it, sometimes we forget what it means to have Canada across your chest, to represent your country and your hometown and your family. To be honoured with all that in mind and the group of players here, it means a lot to me.”
On the calendar for the senior national squad this year are two big events, the Pan American Games being held right on home soil in July and the inaugural Premier 12 in Taiwan in November. With rosters restricting players in the majors or on 40-man rosters from participating, and Romak hoping to be in Arizona with the Diamondbacks, there is a clear conflict for the hitter.
“It’s on my radar … the only thing is it’s a tough time of year,” he said of the Pan Am Games. “Obviously I’m on board with Team Canada stuff 100%. If it works, it works and that would be great. It means that much more to be at home in Toronto, but you’ve got to in the end do what’s best for your career too right? So it’s kind of a sticky situation but I hope to be able to do it and I will play it by ear and see what happens.”
In a similar respect, the Premier 12 comes at a difficult time. With Romak often spending his off-seasons playing winter ball, where players are not only offered a chance to stay on the field but can also make a significant amount of money, a chance to represent Canada at the tournament in Taiwan would likely alter his plans.
“If I get home in September and I report in February, that’s a long break for me,” he said. “I play winter ball to stay sharp and be competitive and get in that environment. So if that’s the avenue instead of winter ball, maybe that’s what I do. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but Team Canada stuff is always a yes in my mind, just how do we make it work?”
No matter how soon Romak can suit up in the red and white again, there’s little doubt that the hard work he continues to put in will pay off for whatever team he dons the jersey for. Attributing his longevity in the game to the resources he’s been afforded and his passion for the sport, there is no one more ready for whatever comes his way.
“We’re very fortunate in London with the facility that we have [in Centrefield Sports],” Romak said. “There’s no doubt, I truly don’t think that the group of guys that we’ve had there would have been able to play as long as we did if we didn’t have that.
“There was a time when we were driving a couple hours a couple days a week to hit for a small amount of time in a facility that really only allowed us to hit. Now we can do absolutely everything. That gets lost on us sometimes and we take it for granted. You show up and you can do absolutely everything in one spot. It’s incredible. So much of the credit goes to that and the fact that really I just love to play baseball.
“It’s what I like to do and when you have a passion for what you do, you put everything you have into it. I like to think I work as hard as I can to prepare to play and I continue to love to play, so there’s no timetable on things.”
As the owner of Centrefield Sports and a witness to much of his journey, Stern has seen Romak’s efforts firsthand and believes he is incredibly deserving of any of the benefits he may reap.
“His work ethic is his biggest strength,” Stern said. “When you get in a career and you start moving through it, and you go through prospect status and you have some injuries, then you kind of have to re-establish yourself – he’s had perseverance to get through all that…
“Watching him transform into a guy who became very prepared in his off-seasons and diligent in his work, he never really has an off-season. Most players take a little time off – he doesn’t take any time off. He really kept at it and he’s put himself in a great position…
“Anytime you have to deal with what he had to deal with early, especially with injuries as a young player, it shows how he believed in himself and never stopped believing. He believed he’s a big leaguer.”
And he is.
And the hard work he’s put in on his continuing journey and the transformation his friends has seen now serves as motivation for many of the young players who come through the same facility, including those Romak spends time coaching with the Great Lake Canadians program.
“I saw [him change] in Puerto Rico in 2010,” Robinson said. “It was really like it went from Jamie overthinking things to Jamie finding his fit and becoming very professional. He’s always been professional but that became his thing; his niche almost…The immaturity in his game was gone and it’s an impressive, not transformation, because he’s always worked so hard and he’s always been so meticulous.
“But it’s kind of neat to see that and it’s good for the kids to see that there’s a process to everything. One of the problems we find when you’re dealing with kids for five or six years, they want it to happen right now…you’ve got to understand there’s a process to everything.”
Romak will continue the process as long as he can.
“I just keep going with it and the game will eventually force me out,” he said. “I’ll just wait until it does.”