By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Ricky Romero was at Rogers Centre on Saturday to watch his good friend and ex-teammate Jose Bautista have his name added to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence.
Romero was delighted for his pal and also happy to see Edwin Encarnacion, another ex-teammate, who, with Bautista, formed a potent one-two punch in the Blue Jays’ lineup for parts of seven seasons.
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Encarnacion will be the next to have his name added to the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence. And in the latest episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog, Romero told host Stu Stone that he’d be all for that, but he also doesn’t want people to forget about Vernon Wells, who starred in the Blue Jays outfield from 1999 to 2010.
“He is near and dear to my heart because he went through the tough times of being a Toronto Blue Jay,” Romero told Stone about Wells. “He should be [on the Level of Excellence] just because for a long time he held all of those [Blue Jays] records.”
Certainly some of Wells’ totals were surpassed by Bautista and Encarnacion, but the long-time Blue Jays centre fielder still ranks above Bautista and Encarnacion in games played (1,393), hits (1,529) and total bases (2,597).
Memories of Bautista
Romero made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in 2009. In that same season, Bautista was fighting for a full-time job with the Blue Jays after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Robinzon Diaz the previous August.
Prior to landing in Toronto, Bautista had played for four different major league teams and had yet to secure a full-time job. Even with the Blue Jays in 2009, the then 28-year-old Bautista batted only .235 with 13 home runs in 113 games.
“I remember at third base when Scott Rolen would have a day off [in 2009], he was the guy that would fill in,” said Romero, when sharing his memories of Bautista. “So, I remember him kind of just being a grinder when I first met him and I always watched him and I was like, ‘Wow if this guy ever got an opportunity!’ You just see the talent that oozes out of him. And you just see the batting practice that he takes and you just see the swings that he takes . . . ”
Romero’s personal scouting report on Bautista was dead on.
Once Bautista was given a full-time opportunity to play in 2010, he broke out for a franchise record 54 home runs and evolved into one of the most feared sluggers in the majors for the next several seasons.
On the 2023 Blue Jays
Like most Blue Jays fans, Romero is still waiting for the 2023 squad to play their best baseball. The Blue Jays own a 66-54 record and sit in the third Wild-Card spot in the American League, but most feel they have underperformed.
“The Blue Jays have not hit that point where they have just taken off,” Romero told Stone. “We’ve seen it and then it kind of goes away. We see it and then it kind of goes away. So, we’re just still waiting, waiting for the six, seven, eight, nine, 10-game winning streak.”
But Romero is optimistic that streak is coming.
“I don’t think they’ve hit their peak yet,” he said. “I feel like we’ve seen bits and pieces, but once this team puts it together and if they’re able to carry something hot into the playoffs, when they get there, then they’re going to be really fun to watch.”
Mayza Blue Jays’ “unsung hero”
One of the reasons the Blue Jays have been able to hold on to an American League Wild-Card spot has been the strong performance of their bullpen. Romero says left-hander Tim Mayza, who owns a 1.08 ERA in 54 outings, has been a major bright spot.
“To me, he’s one of the unsung heroes of this team,” said Romero of Mayza. “The guy just keeps getting called upon and he just comes in and does the job. And to me, he’s been as valuable as any reliever probably in the big leagues.”