Sunday is a day Sal Romano and his family and closest friends will never forget.
The 2011 Southington High grad and former Gatorade State Player of the Year will be fulfilling a life-long dream of wearing a Major League uniform.
Around 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the 23-year old got the news he’s been waiting to hear. Not only did the Reds summon the right-handed pitcher to Cincinnati, he’s making the start on Sunday afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers at the Great American Ball Park.
“I’ve waited for this for a long time,” Romano said Friday from Columbus, Ohio, where he and the Louisville Bats, Cincinnati’s Triple-A club, were in town for a four-game series. “I got called into the office this afternoon and the manager [Delino DeShields] told me. It was amazing.”
Romano will drive the 100 miles from Columbus to Cincinnati today. He’ll meet up with about 40 friends and family members who are descending on the Queen City for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.
“We will have a good time together and then I will get ready for Sunday,” said Romano, who has been in the Reds’ organization since he was drafted in 2011 out of Southington High School. “I really don’t have words for it. It’s something I’ve been waiting for my entire life to one day get this call. I’m proud to share it with all of the great people in my life. But this is just the beginning.”
When he got the call Friday, Romano promptly called his family. He called his high school baseball coach Charlie Lembo, his high school basketball coach Bob Lasbury and his AAU coach, Brian Rooney of Bristol.
“Rooney was one of the earliest people to tell me I was going to the big leagues some day,” Romano said. “These are the people that deserved to hear this over the phone from me. I wanted to deliver the news to them. I didn’t want them read it on the Internet.”
Romano said family members, including parents Sal and Lynne, were brought to tears upon hearing the news.
“So many tears of joy,” Romano said. “All of the ups and downs, all of the tears and struggles, was all for this moment. I can’t wait to see them all when they get to Cincinnati. My girlfriend and all of my boys from back home. We will have a good amount of people — probably over 40 family and friends. Cincy is going to be bumping with some Romano fans on Sunday.”
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Romano has been on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster since last season. He was a contender to make the big-league club out of spring training this year — striking out 25 and walking just three in 20 innings with a 3.15 ERA — only to be optioned to minor league camp on March 29.
Romano opened 2017 in Triple-A with Louisville and turned in two quality starts. In the April 6 season opener against Columbus, Romano allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings while striking out three. He did not get a decision. The game went 13 innings, where visiting Columbus won 3-2.
His second start came Tuesday against Toledo and that was a gem. Romano threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while striking out five.
Again, he did not get the decision. The scored was 0-0 through seven. Toledo got to the Louisville bullpen in the eighth and won 2-0.
While Romano was thriving at Triple-A, fate took a turn in the majors when Reds right-hander Rookie Davis was hit by a pitch in Pittsburgh. Davis was put on the 10-day disabled list with a bruised right forearm, opening up a spot in the rotation.
In joining the Reds, Romano joins a elite franternity of major leaguers from Southington, including Rob Dibble, Carl Pavano, Mike Raczka and Chris Denorfia.
Coincidentally, Dibble and Denorfia both got their start with the Reds. Dibble was a member of the famed “Nasty Boys” bullpen that backboned Cincinnati’s 1990 World Series championship season. Denorfia, in 2005, made his debut in very same ball park where Romano will make his Sunday.
“Hopefully, I made Southington proud,” Romano said. “I did it. Anyone who told me I couldn’t, I did it.
“Thank you everyone in Southington that believed in me,” he added. “April 16 will be a day I will never forget. Today and tomorrow, celebrating a little bit with my family and friends, it’s going to be fun two or three days.”
Once he takes the field, it will be all buisness.
“It’s going to be special,” Romano said. “When I take the field, I’m going to take it all in. I’m going to look around, look for my famly and friends, because I know they will be there with me. But once that first pitch is thrown, I’m going to do what I have to do and what needs to be done.”
As a senior at Southington in 2011, Romano went 10-2, striking out 121 batters in 81 innings while walking only 17. He had an ERA of 0.35, allowing only four earned runs. About the same time he was leading the Blue Knights through the Class LL tournament to the state finals, he was drafted in the 23rd round by the Reds.
Earlier in the year, Romano had committed to pitch at the University of Tennessee. He spent over a month in the summer of 2011 with the Volunteers before inking a contract with the Reds on Aug. 12.
Romano spent his 2012 rookie season in the Pioneer League in Billings, Montana, then pitched two years of A-ball in the Midwest League in Dayton, Ohio. He was in Florida for 2015, splitting the season between High-A Daytona and Double-A Pensacola.
Romano was added to Cincinnati’s 40-man roster in the 2016 season, which he spent back in Pensacola, coming on very strong in the second half (5-1, 1.93 ERA) after scuffling in the first half (1-10, 5.02).
A sense of how far he’s come? According to a scouting report on redsminorleagues.com, Romano was throwing in the high 80s and low 90s when he was drafted. In his Tuesday start against Toledo, he was consistently between 95-97.
Reds scouts also report his changeup is improving. It’s in the upper 80s with sinking action. His breaking pitch is the slider. It clocks in at 86-88.
Romano’s full minor league line is 32-48 with a 4.32 ERA. A new line starts Sunday.
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