Al & Bea's Restaurant in Boyle Heights. Photo by Kate Valdez.
Ricky Romero, a Roosevelt graduate, is a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. / Photo courtesy of Toronto Blue Jays

When reporters ask 27-year-old Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero where he’s from, he insists that they include “East” before Los Angeles. It’s not only where he grew up, but where his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player began.

Although he now divides his time between traveling the country with his team and homes in Toronto and Downey he still calls East Los Angeles home.
“I bleed East L.A.,” said Romero. “I want people to know where I come from. I am not ashamed of it.”

For thousands of kids in East Los Angeles, Romero is more than a professional athlete; he also represents the promise and hope that anyone from this community can succeed on a national stage.

Roosevelt High Senior Luis Peraza met Romero during his freshman year when Romero’s younger brother, Gabriel, attended the school. “It was a really great feeling knowing that you just met one of the best players that comes from East L.A.,” said Peraza, described by his baseball teammates as the school’s rising star.

For Peraza, Romero is a role model. “Romero was not only good in baseball, but he was also great academically, so that inspires me to stay in school, go to college, get an education and a career in baseball,” said Peraza.

Romero attended Garfield High School for three years, but graduated from Roosevelt. The high schools are football rivals known for their annual East L.A. Classic game. Romero attended last November’s game as an honorary captain. But for Romero, high school was all about baseball.

“Ever since day one, I was so serious about the sport,” said Romero. “I always imagined myself on my front yard pitching, game one”¦or game seven of the World Series.”

At six feet and 215 pounds, Romero fits well into his Blue Jays uniform. But his athletic build isn’t what got him noticed initially; it was his focus and work ethic. “He is one of the hardest workers I’ve had in all these years I’ve coached,” said Scott Pearson, Romero’s baseball coach at Roosevelt. “His work ethic was amazing, and I really believe that came from his loving family.”

Drafted in 2005
That strong work ethic has certainly paid off for Romero. After Roosevelt, Romero played for Cal State Fullerton and was the first pitcher drafted”” sixth overall”” in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. “Slowly one door started opening behind another”¦ and then I just realized that I’m just a kid from East L.A.”

Romero attributes his success to the most essential people in his life–his parents. Romero’s father, Ricardo, a truck driver, and his mother, a school bus driver, immigrated to the United States from Mexico. “My parents have been with me every part of the way. They’re the reason why I wear the Blue Jay uniform today,” said Romero.

Like many parents in East L.A., Romero’s parents worked long hours and faced daily struggles. But they made it a priority to nurture and support their children’s dreams.

“Our life was to go to work, pick them up [from school], go home, check homework, and go to the ballpark,” said Sandra Romero. “As a parent, you teach them the right path, and their job as an individual is to take that path if they want.”

The family strength behind Ricky Romero was evident to Pearson. “He comes from a very close-knit, loving family and that foundation is what makes up who he is,” said Pearson, who has coached children in inner-city schools for 24 years. “Unfortunately, you don’t see many families with that kind of support.”

A Family Tradition
Playing baseball in East Los Angeles is a Romero family tradition. Romero’s parents met on the baseball field, where his maternal grandfather coached his father at a local park league. At the age of four, Romero began playing Little League baseball at Salazar Park, just a few blocks from his home. His siblings also played baseball, including his younger brother, who pitched on the Roosevelt team. Today, his youngest sibling, 11-year-old Vanessa, plays softball. Romero’s father continues to coach Little League baseball in East L.A.

Romero has demonstrated his commitment to the community. In late 2011, he pledged $100,000 to the Jays Care Foundation to support children in need. His commitment to both Toronto and East L.A. was recognized with a nomination for the Roberto Clemente award, an honor given to the athlete most committed to his community and team. “It was an honor to be mentioned among superstars in the Major League,” said Romero.

But, he added, “For me it’s just a pleasure seeing kids from there being successful. It’s just an honor being part of the East LA community.”

Lesly Juárez is a recent graduate of the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Academy at Theodore Roosevelt High School. During her free time, she likes to read, run and swim. She now attends California...

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