Showcase | Story | 1/26/2019

World opens arms to Romero Jr.

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Maxwell Romero Jr. (Perfect Game)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – With his Saturday morning workout session at the 21st annual Perfect Game World Showcase in the books, Maxwell Romero Jr shrugged his shoulders and smiled widely despite the very cool temperature at the Osceola County Complex.

“Yeah, it’s a little chilly but other than that it’s your normal workout kind of thing,” he told PG, not long after he had taken part in the defensive drill for the showcase’s catchers. “This is just the things you were born to do. The way I see it is you wake up, come here, play and have fun, and that’s it to be honest. That’s what these workouts are for and I kind of enjoy them; they’re kind of fun.”

You can read it in Romero Jr.’s eyes that anything associated with baseball brings him nothing but pure joy. The World Showcase – which is being held at this venue for the first time in its long history – is just another opportunity to experience what he sees as a joyous occasion.

A stocky, 6-foot, 185-pound, left-handed hitting senior catcher at Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Charter School, Romero Jr. has risen to No. 113 overall in the class of 2019 national prospect rankings and is one of a dozen talented back-stops performing at the World this weekend.

A Vanderbilt signee, Romero Jr. calls Miramar, Fla., in South Florida home, and while it’s chillier here this weekend than what he’s used to, there’s no place he’d rather be. He is, after all, a competitor first and foremost, whether he’s at a PG showcase or playing in a PG tournament.

“I’m the type of person where I like to face the best, I like to be with the best, and I believe the World consists of all of that,” Romero Jr. said. “You kind of see where you’re at with the big dogs and you see if can either dig yourself in or dig yourself out – it’s one of those two things. … I like to come and see how I’m doing and if I’m still with it. And there’s a lot of good talent; it’s amazing.”

Count Romero Jr. among one of the top talents here. He shined during the workout, recording 1.89-second Pop time, which tied for an event-best effort with the talented Puerto Rican catcher Sebastian Nunez. His 81 mph catcher’s velocity on a throw from home to second was also among the day’s best; Nunez was tops at 84 mph.

The PG World Showcase truly is a “world” event with dozens of top prospects from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Canada in attendance. It is being run simultaneously with the PG World Uncommitted, PG National Underclass East and 14u East showcases, and those rosters are also beautifully diverse.

Romero Jr. lives in Miramar, Fla., but he has Dominican blood flowing through his veins, and when he gets around all these other Latin players, he likes to jokingly refer to them as “my people.” He loves listening to their Spanish banter, soaking in their playful personalities while they joke around and even do a little trash talking along with all the other things they do with such passion.

“You see them just hustling and bustling; it’s awesome,” Romero Jr. said. “They give you everything they’ve got and it makes you want to do better; it makes you want to give them everything that you’ve got. It kind of inspires me, to be honest … and it’s fun to see how they have fun with (the game), play with it and all that good stuff.”

Maxwell Romero Sr. is here with his son and seemed to enjoy watching Maxwell Jr. interact with all the other players from far-flung corners of North America. He is a native Dominican but has been in the U.S. for a long time; he played baseball at Miami-Dade College in his younger years.

“We want him to be able to show his skills and be able to actually see the competition and see what level he’s at,” Romero Sr. said when asked why they decided to ask for an invite to the World Showcase. “Another reason for coming is him being able to stay in shape and keep working out because with all the (MLB) teams and all the private workouts that they have this is also an extra work out that he gets.”

This is the 17th PG event that Romero Jr. has participated in since 2016, the majority of them tournaments while playing with the prominent FTB organization; he’s been named to PG all-tournament teams seven times.

But he is a showcase veteran, as well, and has been included on five Top Prospect Lists, including at the 2017 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event and the 2018 PG National Showcase. Showcase baseball is different from tournament baseball, but Romero Jr. doesn’t change his approach at all.

The reason for keeping everything – including his mindset – the same is a simple one. When he’s at an event he wants a true evaluation of what he brings to the table and he doesn’t feel he’ll get that if his approach fluctuates from event to event.

“I just want to see where I stand with me being my normal self,” Romero Jr. said. “Sometimes I will see guys try to do a little bit more and that’s fine because it’s a showcase and you’re trying to show as much as you’ve got and get the numbers as high as you can. … I just try to stay normal, stay with in-game Pop times, in-game situations, so I kind of like that type of thing.”

Romero Jr. told PG on Saturday that his association with FTB has been “completely beneficial in every single way.” He enjoys an especially close relationship with FTB owner George Gonzalez and  coach Alan Kunkel, the latter of whom is helping work the World Showcase this weekend.

He was with Kunkel and a star-studded group called the Giants Scout Team-FTB at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October; GST-FTB advanced to the quarterfinal-round of that prestigious tournament. PG All-Americans Riley Greene, Myles Austin and Hylan Hall were among his teammates on that squad.

That wasn’t Romero Jr.’s first go-around with GST-FTB, either. He was with the team in Jupiter a year earlier when they played in the championship game, ultimately settling for a runner-up finish.

“Everybody there is unbelievable,” he said. “Talking with (those guys) and being friends with them – I still hit with them all the time – and it’s a good thing to see. It’s a bond, like a bond a brothers, and (being with) FTB is the best decision I ever made.”

The experiences Romero Jr. has enjoyed with Perfect Game over the last three years have been, by his reckoning, second-to-none, and the only regret he has is that he didn’t get started with PG earlier than when he did. But he made up for lost time and he called the PG National Showcase – held last June at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. – his favorite experience of them all.

“It was nice, with everybody playing, everybody hustling,” Romero Jr. said. “It teaches you that there are a lot of guys out there and when you’re down in South Florida you only know the people that are there. When you’re at PG events you see all this great talent and all these people and you go, ‘Wow!’ there’s more than must Miami, there’s more than just Pembroke Pines.”

In addition to being the No. 113-ranked overall prospect in the class of 2019, Romero Jr. is the No. 13-ranked catcher in the class. Not only does that put him in pretty good company amongst his peers but also puts him in pretty heady company on MLB scouting department draft boards.

Big league organizations can never have too many intelligent, articulate catchers who understand the nuances of the game and can make the other players around him – especially the pitchers – even better. With all that in mind, Romero Jr. and his family have spent time discussing the upcoming MLB June Amateur Draft.

He said the draft is always in the back of his mind, adding that he’s received some sound advice from Aramis Garcia, a good friend of his from Pembroke Pines. Garcia, a catcher like Romero Jr., was a second-round pick of the Giants out of Florida International University in 2014 and made his big-league debut with the Giants last Aug. 31.

“He’s like a big brother to me and he told me that the best advice he could give me was just to be who you are; you can only control what you can control,” Romero Jr. said. “The draft has always been a dream – it’s everybody’s dream – but at the same time you have to realize that this is our last year (in high school); we don’t get this chance ever again.

“The way I see it is, show what you can show on the field, have fun with it and at the same time enjoy it for what it is,” he continued. “God gave us all these things to enjoy it, so the way I see it is just try to have fun and do everything that you can.”

Romero Jr. has been catching since he was six years old and when asked how he wound up that position he laughed and said, “I was always the chunky kid, and you know how it is with the stereotype, if you’re a little chunky they throw you behind the plate.” In the end, it was meant to be.

“My dad taught me how to play all nine positions – you can put me at any position and I’ll compete – but it’s been in my heart and soul to be behind that plate,” he said. “I like running the field … and it’s cool to be the captain of everything. It takes a toll on you sometimes but at the same time being behind the plate teaches you a lot more than any other position, I think.”

The Vanderbilt scholarship offer was a dream come true for Romero Jr., who carries a 4.5 grade-point average at Pembroke Pines Charter; he’s been a fan of the school since he was about 10 years old. He went on an official visit, fell in love with the Nashville, Tenn., campus and head coach Tim Corbin’s program; in short, everything worked out just  perfectly.

“It was nice to finally reach a dream, reach a goal,” Romero Jr. said. “It’s been nice to hold onto that commitment, to say, ‘I’m a Vanderbilt commit.’”

Based on his experiences at Miami-Dade, Romero Sr. has plenty of advice to share with his son: “From day-one, what we’ve always talked about is that education has come first,” he said. “In college, it doesn’t matter how good of a player you are if you don’t have dedication. So the first thing starts at home and then in the classroom, and from there we can move it outside to the field.

“There are college players that do dumb things just like professional ballplayers,” he continued. “So, no matter where you are you’ve just got to act and behave the way you’ve been taught and the way you expect to be.”

Yes, it was definitely sweatshirt weather at the Osceola County Complex for most of the day on Saturday and most definitely after the sun set. Folks here will get no sympathy from their counterparts in the Midwest, of course, but hey, everything is relative.

The Romeros are happy to be here regardless, and they are enjoying what may be Romero Jr.’s final PG experience. It’s all in a day’s work at the World Showcase, PG’s longest running national showcase event.

“It’s always good whenever you can see live pitching,” Romero Sr. concluded. “The competition is (strong) and it’s not the same when you’re just practicing at home. When he’s with all the other kids, it always pushes him and brings out the best in him. The more he does it the more confidence he feels and  Perfect Game does a very good job of keeping up with every stat along the way.”

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