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Romano could be latest in long line

The '97 Saladino Award winner might be close to a major-league call-up; if so he joins elite company.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


TAMPA -- Jason Romano broke his thumb in June and missed six weeks rehabilitating in Tampa -- running, lifting weights, hitting for an hour every day with just his left hand.

He said he "was going a little stir crazy," plugging away with the workouts, trying not to think where he needed to be: Playing for the Texas Rangers' triple-A team in Oklahoma City.

"To be at home in the middle of the season, well, that's really tough," he said. "The good thing was that I got a chance to help plan my wedding and buy a house and get some things done like that."

Yes, Romano, former Hillsborough High star and Tony Saladino award winner (given every year to the county's top prep player), has risen to triple-A after almost five years in the minors,.

He also is a Tampa-based home owner, and is tying the knot with Ellen Morabito, who has been with him through his pro career.

"Ellen has been great with dating a professional baseball player," Romano said. "It can be difficult because sometimes we haven't seen each other for an entire month because I'm on the road."

Looks like she had better get used to it.

Romano, who was on the Rangers' 40-man major-league spring-training roster, has bounced back from his broken thumb and is hitting .333 in Oklahoma City.

He also switched from second base to outfield, where he is thriving.

Many are taking notice, including baseball expert Peter Gammons, who recently reported on ESPN radio that Romano likely will get called up to the majors near season's end.

Romano said he hadn't heard anything from the organization, but feels more than ready to play in the bigs.

"I've paid some dues and I've had a lot of at-bats," he said. "I've learned a lot and feel I'm a better, smarter hitter."

If Romano does get the call, it will mark the first time in several years a player from Hillsborough County made a jump to the majors.

Not since 1986 did the Saladino Award produce a future major-leaguer: Hillsborough grad Gary Sheffield, who was in the majors two years later. In the previous eight years before Sheffield, six Saladino winners -- Jefferson's Lenny Faedo (1978), Dave Magadan (Jesuit 1980), Vance Lovelace (Hillsborough 1981), Rich Monteleone (Tampa Catholic 1982), John Ramos (Plant 1983) and Tino Martinez (Jefferson 1985) -- played in the big leagues. Ramos was the last one to make his debut, in 1991. "I'm eager to get to the majors," Romano said. "But I'm just trying to concentrate on doing my thing for Oklahoma City, and let everything else take care of itself."

He also said he's making a point to keep his feet planted on the ground, no matter how bright the spotlight might get in coming years.

"I always try to stay as humble as I can," he said. "You can never think you're bigger than the game.

"You can't think that way, because one day you can go hit 4-for-4 and then the next you can go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. I don't think anybody should think they're bigger than the game."

Friday night in Nashville, Romano went 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and a single.

Next up?

Could be Arlington, Texas.

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