By: Brian Frank
Jordan Romano is currently in his fifth big league season pitching for the team he’s rooted for since he was a child. The 6’5” right-handed fireballer was a huge Blue Jays fan growing up in Markham, Ontario – only about 30 kilometers northeast of Rogers Centre.
“My family and all my friends were big Blue Jays, Leafs, and Raptors fans,” he said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles.
“My guys were Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado – and I really enjoyed watching Ricky Romero throw. He was the up and coming young guy. My buddy actually had season tickets in the first row and I’d always try to go on his (Romero’s) start days.”
Romano starred at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham before going on to pitch for two seasons at Connors State College, a junior college in Oklahoma, and one season at Oral Roberts University. He was selected by the Blue Jays in the tenth round of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft and worked his way up through Toronto’s minor league system. He made stops in the GCL and at Bluefield, before missing the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery – and then on to Lansing, Dunedin, New Hampshire, and Buffalo before breaking into the big leagues.
Romano pitching for the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
He remembers being nervous for his Triple-A debut with the Bisons. A starting pitcher at the time, he was off to a great start at Double-A New Hampshire when he was called up to Buffalo to make one start against the Rochester Red Wings at Sahlen Field.
“In the minor leagues you always want to get to the big leagues of course, but Triple-A is like that final step,” he said. “I knew I was only going to Buffalo for the one start and then I was going to be sent back down. I really wanted to make a good impression. I was super nervous about going to Triple-A. That’s pretty much the final step until you’re there. Meach (Bobby Meacham) was managing. Steamer (Bob Stanley) was the pitching coach. I pitched all right. That was my first taste and I was like – hey, I really need to get back here. I remember that vividly.”
He made a good impression that day, allowing two runs in five innings and earning the win, before returning to New Hampshire. He finished the season 11-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 25 starts for the Fisher Cats.
He then entered an unusual offseason. After being selected by the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 draft, he was traded to Texas and spent spring training with the Rangers. He eventually returned to the Blue Jays organization in March and began the 2019 season with Buffalo. He pitched three shutout innings of relief in his first outing of the season before being moved to the starting rotation.
“I was starting for the Bisons – but I got off to a pretty rotten start there,” he explained. “They called me in and said they wanted to test me out relieving because starting wasn’t really working out. So I started relieving.”
“It went smooth, but there is an adjustment,” he recalled of the transition of moving from the rotation to the bullpen. “Moving from being a starter, where you get four or five days rest, to the bullpen, where you could be throwing every two days, every other day, or back-to-back days – that was a little adjustment. Like how much do I need to be throwing? My workout routine and stuff like that had to change. I’d say a couple months in it started feeling pretty normal.”
In late May and early June, Romano had an eight game stretch where he didn’t allow a run, held opponents to a .152 batting average, and struck out 15 batters in 10 1/3 innings. His success led to his first call up to the major leagues.
“I was closing games at the time for Buffalo,” he said. “I remember in Indianapolis, it was a really close game and I didn’t throw the eighth or ninth inning – and I thought that was a little bit strange. I had good rest and I didn’t throw. I thought, well that’s weird – and I was kind of hanging around the clubhouse and something just felt a little different. The coaches were kind of looking at me a little weird. Then Meach, probably about an hour after the game, said, ‘Hey, we didn’t throw you because you’re going to be throwing tomorrow with Toronto.’ I mean – wow! What emotion that was. It’s like your dreams and all the years grinding finally paid off and you finally have your shot. It was a really amazing day.”
His major-league debut came at Baltimore’s Camden Yards with the Blue Jays leading 8-2 in the seventh inning.
“It felt like a movie,” he remembered. “Honestly the whole time I couldn’t believe it was real. It was almost like an out of body experience to be honest. I was doing everything but it’s like I almost couldn’t believe it, you know what I mean? I had a pretty good inning that day and then after it finally sank in – I just pitched in the big leagues and I didn’t embarrass myself. Maybe we can do this, you know?”
He did better than “pretty good.” He struck out the first two batters he faced, Pedro Severino and Rio Ruiz, before inducing Hanser Alberto to ground out to retire the side in order.
After three more appearances for Toronto, Romano returned to Buffalo and continued to close out games for the Herd. In late August, he was called back up to Toronto, where he pitched out of the Blue Jays bullpen until the end of the season.
Romano at Sahlen Field with the Blue Jays in 2021. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Little did he know he’d be returning to Buffalo in 2020 – but this time as a big leaguer. The Blue Jays used Sahlen Field as their temporary home due to the U.S.-Canada border being closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Covid year was definitely strange for everyone,” Romano said. “But I really love Buffalo. I think it was a really nice park to start and then with all the upgrades they did, I felt really at home. They really made it as big league as possible. I really enjoyed playing there. Not having the fans was definitely odd, but we made the best of it. The people in Buffalo, the support staff, were awesome.”
The biggest moment of the 2020 season came when the Blue Jays clinched a playoff berth by defeating the New York Yankees in downtown Buffalo by a score of 4-1.
“Just being in Buffalo definitely adds an element of coolness,” he said of the playoff clinching game. “Like when is that ever going to happen again? It was definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Celebrating a playoff berth (back row on left). Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
The Blue Jays returned to Sahlen Field for part of the 2021 season while the border remained closed. This time, fans were allowed to attend games as Covid safety protocols eased throughout the summer.
“I’m from here,” the Southern Ontario native said while standing on the turf at Rogers Centre. “I absolutely love playing here. But Buffalo was pretty cool too. We packed out that stadium. It got pretty rowdy. The fans were great. I feel like we got a lot of Bills fans that were embracing us too. At the time I knew all the spots in the city, like where to eat and where to go. I really enjoyed my time in Buffalo.”
Romano has another tie to the Queen City – he’s a Bills fan. He’s even been to a game in Orchard Park.
“They’re my favorite team,” he smiled. “A while ago they played a few games in Toronto. That was the only NFL team I cheered for – so I just kind of kept that going. I’m a huge Bills fan, huge Josh Allen fan. He was actually here a couple weeks ago and I got to meet him. He’s an awesome guy.”
“In 2019 I got down there (to Orchard Park). They were facing the Eagles. We had on-field passes, so I got to experience that. That was the second football game I’ve ever been to and it was amazing.”
“I think they have what it takes to go all the way,” he added about the upcoming NFL season. “I know there’s a lot of good teams out there. K.C. and the Eagles are both awesome – but Buffalo is right up there with them. I’d love to see them win one.”
Throwing in downtown Buffalo. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Romano is having another All-Star caliber season. He leads the major leagues with 22 saves and he has a 2.59 ERA in 32 relief appearances. Last season, he had a 2.11 ERA, collected 36 saves, and was named to the American League All-Star team. Even with all his success, he’s still grateful for the opportunity to pitch for his hometown team.
“Just being able to step on the field as a player is really special and something I’m grateful for every day,” he beamed. “It’s special. I saw 2015 and 2016 when they were making their deep runs, and what the city was like, what the fan base was like. We’re just trying to bring that back because I know how cool the city gets when we’re playing well. I’m telling all the guys that too. They know. We got a little taste of it with the wild card last year, but obviously that didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We’re just trying to get back to that deep playoff run so that we can see the city buzz again.”
Warming up in the Rogers Centre bullpen. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles